Understanding the human dimension of corporate success

Aug 29, 2002

In the age of Enron, the Global Sullivan Principles workshops Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 at Kettering teach students how to support economic, social and political justice among employees as a way of ensuring company success.

In the age of Enron, the Global Sullivan Principles workshops Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 at Kettering teach students how to support economic, social and political justice among employees as a way of ensuring company success.

In this muddied age of Enron and Arthur Anderson, the phrase "cooking the books" is quickly becoming a cliche that portrays in a single breath the greed of company CEOs, declining stock value, loss of jobs and behavior that's more suggestive of mentally unbalanced individuals than people with some idea about how to run a profitable company. Recent reports indicate that consumer confidence is at its lowest level in the past nine months, which further supports the idea that Americans are growing more and more frustrated with corporate indiscretions. As the public continues to learn more about these kinds of stories, it's easy to understand why hope in this age of corporate irresponsibility is as fleeting as the illusive glow of a firefly.

But there is good news. It comes in the form of the Global Sullivan Principles, a set of beliefs that support economic, social and political justice by companies where they conduct business. These principles support human rights and encourage equal opportunities at all levels of employment, including racial and gender diversity on decision-making committees and boards. The program also trains and advances disadvantaged employees for technical, supervisory and management opportunities, among other attributes.

The late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, the first African American to serve on the General Motors Corp. Board of Directors, led the development of the Global Sullivan Principles based on his belief in the ethical treatment of employees. His groundbreaking work in this area has had a tremendous impact on business and people in the U.S. and throughout the world. Nelson Mandela, for example, credits Sullivan and his principles for aiding in the elimination of apartheid in South Africa.

GM was also taken with Sullivan's idea and in honor of his work and service to the company established the GM Sullivan Fellowship program. This program represents a partnership between GM and the United Negro College Fund, and offers a multifaceted opportunity that consists of three components designed to give students exposure to the Global Sullivan Principles of Social Responsibility through school-based courses and workshops. Each selected institution receives a $10,000 grant, which provides $5,000 to the university and two $2,500 fellowships to the Sullivan Fellow based upon the successful completion of a GM internship and production of a written and oral presentation on the Sullivan Principles. Kettering is one of nine universities selected by GM for participation in this program.

This year, Kettering Mechanical Engineering students Chidiegwu Uhiara of Houston, Texas, and Nina Robinson of Southfield, Mich., received selection as GM Sullivan Fellows.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Beverly Jones, an assistant professor in the University's Industrial Manufacturing Engineering and Business Dept., Uhiara, Robinson, Kettering's Student Alumni Council (SAC) and Kettering Trustee Joseph B. Anderson Jr., hosted a leadership development workshop on campus Aug. 28. Another workshop is planned for Sept. 4 as well. These workshops teach Kettering students the importance of applying the Global Sullivan Principles to their co-op positions and work as student leaders.

"It's important for students to understand the Global Sullivan Principles," explained Uhiara, "because these principles deal with leaders and how critical it is for them to develop moral ethics in the business world." He also added that all students who attended the workshops might indeed become future industry leaders. Exposure to these principles will help them to consider the moral implications of their decisions not just on a company's bottom line, but on the people who are involved with the organization.

Anderson, who is chairman and CEO of Vibration Control Technologies based in Troy, Mich., led the Aug. 28 workshop. Anderson, whose distinguished career includes service as a White House fellow and special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce among other positions, believes the Global Sullivan Principles are necessary for all students to learn if they wish to be successful leaders one day.

"If you look at the challenges and issues that relate to people in the world today-the Israel-Palestine issue for example-there's no sense of hope, resolution or consideration of the future," he said. "But if leaders applied the Global Sullivan Principles to our country's relationships and dealings with China, Iran, Iraq and other countries and issues, there are many positive implications for the U.S. in the business arena. For example, we can increase stability between countries and establish fair trade to benefit people from all countries involved. As a country, we want to tap into the natural resources available throughout the world, but as Dr. Sullivan espouses in his writings and in the Principles, people must reap the benefits."

Admittedly, however, Anderson notes that the Global Sullivan Principles may not eliminate future Enron scenarios. But at the very least, these beliefs provide a chance for students to consider the people in organizations here and abroad, and their experiences as a way of ensuring company success. This sort of corporate foresight and moral responsibility is what distinguishes superior organizations from mediocre companies.


The Global Sullivan Principles

As a company that endorses the Global Sullivan Principles, we will respect the law, and as a responsible member of society we will apply these principles with integrity consistent with the legitimate role of business. We will develop and implement company policies, procedures, training and internal reporting structures to ensure commitment to these principles throughout our organization. We believe the application of these principles will achieve greater tolerance and better understanding among peoples, and advance the culture of peace. Accordingly, we will

  • Express our support for universal human rights and, particularly, those of our employees, the communities within which we operate and parties with whom we do business.
  • Promote equal opportunity for our employees at all levels of the company with respect to issues such as color, race, gender, age, ethnicity or religious beliefs, and operate without unacceptable worker treatment such as the exploitation of children, physical punishment, female abuse, involuntary servitude or other forms of abuse.
  • Respect our employees' voluntary freedom of association.
  • Compensate our employees to enable them to meet at least their basic needs and provide the opportunity to improve their skill and capability to raise their social and economic opportunities.
  • Provide a safe and healthy workplace, protect human health and the environment, and promote sustainable development.
  • Promote fair competition including respect for intellectual and other property rights and do not offer, pay or accept bribes.
  • Work with governments and communities in which we conduct business to improve the quality of life in those communities-their educational, cultural, economic and social well-being-and provide training and opportunities for workers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Promote the application of these principles with those with whom we conduct business.

To learn more about The Global Sullivan Principles, visit the website at www.globalsullivanprinciples.org.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 76-9538