Masking integrity in business


Jesus’ most scalding indictments were directed at those He called “hypocrites!” In Greek theater, a hypocrite is a masked actor who plays a part where he is something or someone other than himself. Jesus accused the Pharisees of putting on masks of godliness while their hearts were far from God:

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. …’”

Today Jesus might address our nation with equally harsh criticism. Let me give you two illustrations from the business world.

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One Fortune 500 company’s ethic’s policy reads: “Each director, officer, and employee owes a duty to the company to act with integrity. Integrity requires, among other things, being honest and ethical. … Deceit and subordination of principle are inconsistent with integrity.”

If you read the entire policy you might want to adopt it as your own.

But let’s look behind the mask. I have a friend I will call James who is an employee of that company. The company bullies James into loaning them money at his expense. James travels and incurs business expenses. He submits expense reports and personal credit card statements for payment. The company pays the expenses, but not immediately: They insist that James wait until 90 days after he receives his credit card bill to file his expense report. James is forced to either pay his credit card bill by the due date, which is in essence loaning money to his company at no interest, or he can risk bad credit by paying his bill late.

So much for acting with integrity, honesty, and ethics. The company’s policy sounds great; they parade it publicly, yet it is but a mask.

Doing the right thing is extraordinarily important and reflects a deep commitment of the company, says another Fortune 500 company’s ethics document. “Integrity is something we must live every day,” the policy says. Yet I know from personal experience that this company regularly signs supplier contracts that require payment 30 days after delivery, and never pays the bill until after 60 days have passed. I checked their latest annual report: They currently pay suppliers in 68 days. It looks like nothing has changed. The mask is on and the reality is a quite different.

But this company should not be singled out as unusual. Ask any small-business person or collection manager who supplies a Fortune 500 company, and most will have the same story. They pay their bills eventually, but seldom on time. There are rare exceptions.

I realize this is considered “creative financing,” but just because it is common practice does not make it ethical. I know of no company willing to state in writing: “Whatever your payment terms are, we don’t care. We always pay late!”

But that is the reality behind the mask.

I cannot fix these corporations, nor take up for my friend. I wish I could. Integrity is important and waning badly.

For those using “creative financial” practices like this, let’s be honest about what they are: “Masks of integrity covering actors playing at something they are not.” Christ said it this way:

“… you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Integrity begins with each of us examining ourselves honestly. Fortune 500 companies are not the only ones who don masks.

Bill Newton
Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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