The Role of the CEO in Building an Ethical Organization

On February 1, 2011, Mark Lonergan moderated a panel discussion sponsored by The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University Panelists at the Markkula ethics discussion A panel of technology CEOs, all of whom have run public companies in the Silicon Valley, was convened by Mark Lonergan to discuss the topic of ethics and the role of the CEO. The Panel was sponsored as part of Santa Clara University’s Business and Organizational Ethics Partnership Program. In attendance were an engaged group of ethics and compliance officers, HR executives, in-house and outside counsel, and academics. Employees from such companies such as Hewlett Packard and Cirrus Logic were in attendance. Audience at the Markkula ethics discussion


All three panelists agreed that the CEO plays a fundamental role in setting the ethical tone of the organization. CEOs come to their role, they agreed, with a foundation of values coming from their upbringing first and foremost, and molded and expanded by their early work environments. Mentors could and often did play an important role. The spirit of great companies such as Cray, Hewlett Packard, and Silicon Graphics deeply influenced employees in their formative years by establishing a foundation for their future sense of corporate ethics. The CEOs were aligned in believing that ethics were not best conveyed through policies and rules/regulations alone. Great companies appeal to their employees’ emotions and to their core values. The “H-P Way,” the “Cray Style,’ and the “Spirit of SGI” are all examples of ethical philosophies distilled from the values of the founders and early company builders. When the CEO remains true to these philosophies in ethical situations, the result is powerful lessons taught to their organizations at a profound emotional level. Read the Markkula Center’s writeup on the event.


Ken Denman
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Ken Denman CEO of Openwave

Radha Basu
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Radha Basu Former CEO & Founder of Supportsoft

Bo Ewald
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Robert “Bo” Ewald Former CEO of Silicon Graphics