Corporate ethics – where do
you get 'em?
Corporate ethics define relationships between businesses and their customers – especially when things go wrong. But where do they come from?

by Craig Fallshaw
     In my experience and in the SME sector where I spend my days, corporate ethics generally stem from the founder or owners of the business and in turn form their own moral compass. Ethics are like big toes: most people have them and everyone’s is different

     I have found that, as in life, in business some people have a strong moral compass that points to true north while others I have come across I am fairly sure have either started out with no moral compass or along the way somebody has taken said compass and stomped on it to the point where it is no longer functional.

     I don't know where mine came from, but I like to think it knows true north and that I am doing one of my most important jobs as my business grows beyond the point where I can be across all the decisions – and that is to communicate our values and moral code to my staff (now 26 + casuals, and counting).

     I suspect I learnt early on while working for my father, in the family business, that the key is to make it about the customers, do right by them, and they will do right by you, most of the time.

I STARTED WITH THE HARDEST JOB IN THE PLACE

     Dad’s business was much bigger than mine is now, but I was privileged to work in all areas including production, starting off in the hardest job in the place, granulation, scooping 3 tons a day of ethanol-soaked granules through a fitzmill (processes were pretty manual back then). Then I ended my adult apprenticeship with what I am sure was some sort of blooding or right of initiation by having to take everything out of the warehouse on Saturday morning, do the floor with the scrubber, and then mop it out. This was to be followed by what I am sure was some sort of test – put everything back in, but not using the forklift – only the pallet jack so as to not mark the clean floor.

     If he was trying to instil in me the value of hard work, well, it worked.

     I then spent about ten years in sales for Dad in that and another business. All that experience came in handy as I knew what and how long it took to get a product from concept to being a bottle of tablets on a health food shop shelf.

     The learning served me well to this day and I am incredibly grateful.

IF WE MADE A MISTAKE, WE FIXED IT

     Still I carry those lessons with me. In the last few years we or our suppliers have stuffed things up and sometimes, even though it might cost me a month’s profit, we fixed them.

     Because that’s what you do. My customers know that and my staff know that, by my example – not by a pretty poster on the lunchroom wall or some written code or mission statement, but because they see that’s what we do. If we wrong someone we make it right.

     There may come a time when I am unable, due to scale, to communicate my values and the values of the business by my actions alone and will need some pretty written statement on the lunchroom wall, but we are not quite there yet. Even when we are, I’d like to think that my managers will still know instinctively what the right thing is to do.
     
//I STILL CARRY THOSE LESSONS WITH ME. IN THE LAST FEW YEARS WE OR OUR SUPPLIERS HAVE STUFFED THINGS UP AND
SOMETIMES, EVEN THOUGH IT MIGHT COST ME A MONTH’S PROFIT, WE FIXED THEM.//
COMPROMISE

     A few years ago one of the technical team made a mistake and omitted the coated finish from a label specification. The customer signed off, we made the product and then three months later they complained that the labels were the wrong finish.

     Now all our terms and conditions say we give 30 days to let us know of product problems. Despite that, I said, “Well you signed it, we made it to the specification that you signed. However we left that detail off the spec, so I will go you halves in the fix.” The fix was to repack – worth about $50,000. The customer decided that wasn’t fair , and I thought it was. So they said, “See you in court”.

     Six months and $10K in legal fees later, they agreed to go halves.

     I know… hilarious right?

IT'S IMPORTANT TO SAY NO SOMETIMES

     Another prime example is where we supply raw material, which is fresh and unadulterated and passes all the required tests when we supply it. Then a manufacturer mixes it with other ingredients and makes a finished product, This about 2 years ago. Now the manufacturer’s customer’s customer – so three steps in the chain from us – wants us to credit the value of the raw material. I had to say no. We don’t know what happened to it, how it was stored or handled, and it was perfect when we supplied it. So how could we be responsible?

     I guess this is the other side of of the moral compass – being able to say no. It’s a skill I am still perfecting.

    
 Maybe the definitions should be something like, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

WHO GETS THE WRONG END OF THE STICK?

     Be fair, which is sometimes hard without feeling like you got the wrong end of the stick, but here is the most important thing – the customer didn’t!

     One of my clients – he was one of my first two or three when I started working for Dad 20-odd years ago and is still my customer today – once told me after we had stuffed something up, “It’s not that you make mistakes that people remember, but how you go about fixing them.”

     Treat your customers with respect, guided by a strong moral compass, and they will be yours for many years to come.

     Craig Fallshaw, founder of Complementary Medicines Group, comes from a long line of Australian natural products manufacturers. His industry career, spanning more than 26 years, began in the family business, a contract  anufacturer founded by his grandfather in 1972. Craig, from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, is a keen photographer and loves employing his drone to photograph otherwise inaccessible places.
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