“There is no such thing as ‘business ethics’. People either have ethics or they don’t. If they do not have personal ethics, they will definitely not have ethics in business and if they have personal ethics, they will definitely have it in business too.”
Dr John C. Maxwell American author, speaker, and pastor.
What the above means to say, that the rot from one apple will spread to all apples in the crate, unless timeously removed. This is irrespective of any crisis, man made or brought on by nature. An ancient Chinese proverb says that a crisis also presents opportunities. That may be true, as long as the opportunists don’t gain the upper hand.
Currently we come across them in great numbers, in the form of politicians who collude with “tender-preneurs”, clients or main contractors who resort to sluggish payment based on spurious reasons, people who choose public emotions as a lifestyle or their opposites who find it expedient to cut off communication altogether.
There is a demand for ethics in business.
In 2014, when South Africa still had a Public Protector worth the title, Advocate Thuli Madonsela addressed the South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE) and was encouraged by the Code of Ethics that was formulated by these professionals. Among the provisions in the code, she specifically mentioned:
1. Act with integrity and fairness.
2. Have regard for the public interest.
3. Maintain and broaden competence and assist others to do so.
4. Exercise appropriate skill and judgement.
5. Avoid conflict of interest.
6. Treat people with dignity.
7. Do not misrepresent your area of experience and responsibility.
Listening to the voices of the general population of South Africa and the world – the demand for ethical and honest leadership is growing all the time.
Genuine competition is good for the consumer, imitation is not.
Ever since its founding in 1979, the Terraforce management team has been driven by one primary concern, namely, to build an authentic, sustainable company that could survive – and thrive – without exploiting resources or trampling on the interests of others.
This resolute commitment to quality, integrity and innovation paid off. Terraforce, a local and international licensor for a range of unique precast earth retaining and erosion control products, grew into a household name in the precast industry, and naturally, this came with a healthy dose of robust competition. Holger Rust, Founder and Member of Terraforce, has never perceived this as a threat, rather advocating that most people in business understand that competition is good for business AND for the consumer.
Over time however, a string of imitators, operating in many locations, kept popping up, often leaving behind an inevitable trail of on-site disasters and unhappy clients. Says Rust: “lacking a sense of ethics and values, most of them are strangers to terms such as statutory requirements, surcharge loadings, potential failure planes, interface shear capacity, pull-out and crushing resistance, lateral earth pressure or progressive backfill erosion. In the early days, the then lack of any SABS/SANS standards made the situation even worse. For obvious reasons, most of these “free loaders” do not last very long.”
Rust adds: “some of these companies – that purposefully copy products developed by others or commit blatant tender fraud are well known players in the industry. Surprisingly (or not?) even a ‘leading corporate citizen’ can be found among the producers of pirated goods. These “reverse engineers” are troublesome to some extent, especially when they make ambiguous claims that their actions are ‘for the benefit of the community at large’ and that their actions ‘promote competition,’ when in reality they just want to forgo the troublesome process of being innovative and efficient. The owners and managers undoubtedly fail to measure up to ex Deputy Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene’s call for more honesty and integrity in business: “You have a huge responsibility, to demonstrate that morals and values still form the foundation of our society. Without honesty and integrity, free markets will run amok.” (Cape Times 11 November 2009)
Taking the cheap route leads to a cheap result.
And indeed, there have been incidents where sectors of the free market ran amok, as the Competition Tribunal saga in 2009 clearly showed. During that time, David Lewis, then Competition Tribunal Chairman, is quoted as saying that: “It is an incontrovertible fact that the level of cartel activity is unusually high in South Africa.” (Cape Times, 19 July 2009)
The huge fines that were dished out to the culprits don’t seem to make much of a difference says Rust: “after billions of Rands in fines were paid by the largest players in the building industry in late 2011 and after a lot of what appears to have been cosmetic surgery and dishing up of ‘platitudes of corporate parlance’, unscrupulous business practices continue to this day. In the precast industry the trend of producing cheap imitations that mislead the end-user into believing they are dealing with an authentic product and withholding/delaying contractor payment is still a big issue for anyone wanting to make an honest living amongst these sharks.”
The bottom line, says Rust, is that low profit margins in South Africa can lead to scant regard for intellectual property rights, which tends to hold back the quest for better quality products.
Sticking to your ethical guns, even if the road is harder.
In closing, Rust firmly stands by his own choice of never veering off an ethical and authentic path when it comes to running his personal life and business ventures: “To be innovative and ethically sustainable has always be a huge priority in how I started up and run this business. And this will never change. This strategy – over the past 40 years – has paid off well. In the current crisis, some of our licensees have even managed to increase their turnover, demonstrating that running a business with integrity is indeed possible!”
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