Gray Area: Do Ethics Still Have a Place in Business?

I’m a racing fan (OK, a sports fan in general) so I was following the race last Saturday night at Richmond International Speedway, which was the final race of the ‘regular season’ in NASCAR. As usual, there were a few drivers and teams who were on the bubble of making it into The Chase, NASCAR’s playoffs. If you haven’t heard, Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) was levied penalties and a record fine by NASCAR’s governing body for manipulating the end of the race so its driver could make The Chase.

What does this have to do with business, you ask? If you’re not a fan, you may not know that NASCAR is big business. Companies spend millions of dollars sponsoring drivers, teams and races trying to garner the celebrated loyalty of NASCAR fans. Those fans purchase over $2 billion dollars in licensed merchandise annually and are three times as likely to try to purchase products and services from their favorite drivers’ sponsors.^ They’re a loyal bunch, and loyalty pays.


NASCAR is big business — which can push ethics to the back burner.

Besides, it’s not just the big business of sports where ethics seem to have disappeared. I recently came across a great read, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, in which M.E. Thomas (a pseudonym) states that sociopaths often excel in business due to some of their common traits: excessive self-esteem, lack of empathy, superficial charm and intelligence, excessive risk-taking, pathological lying and lack of remorse.

We climb the corporate ladder faster than the rest, and appear to have limitless self-confidence. Who are we? We are highly successful, non-criminal sociopaths and we comprise 4% of the American population (that’s 1 in 25 people).  –M.E. Thomas

Wow. Think about that for a moment. Sociopaths, who are often characterized as lacking the ability to feel or sympathize with others, often win in the boardroom due to their character traits.

Obviously not all successful business people are sociopaths; some are genuinely good-hearted, ethical people. But are they a dying breed?

Does today’s 24/7 instant gratification culture that we live in cater itself to those with a ‘do-it-at-all-costs’ mentality? With a demand for instant results and real-time information, does the end always justify the means? Is there a long term view any more in the business world? Or has the need for short term success obliterated it?

Please chime in –> Do ethics still have a place in business? Would love to hear your thoughts!

^NASCAR fan statistics courtesy of HLG Licensing
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via a Creative Commons license
Quote from Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, by M.E. Thomas


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