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Published in Hermes, Spring 1999
Continuing to recognize that good deeds are essential to good business, the School awarded the 1998 Botwinick Prizes to two pioneers in business ethics. J. Michael Cook, chairman and CEO of Deloitte & Touche, was given the Prize in Business Ethics for improving his organization’s retention and advancement of women, and Ira M. Millstein, senior partner of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, received the Prize for Ethical Practice in the Professions for his role as a founder of the corporate governance movement.
“The nature of this recognition is very special,” said Cook, who is a member of the School’s board of overseers, in his acceptance speech last September. “This is not about longevity, this is not about popularity, this is not about being the fastest-growing or making the most money. This is about ethics. This is about doing the right thing.” Cook has been lauding the importance of business ethics since the late ’80s, when he was chairman of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants— and when the public was rapidly losing confidence in business because of the prevalence of unethical conduct.
In 1993, at the helm of Deloitte & Touche, Cook implemented the Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women, a program aimed at curtailing the disproportionately high turnover of women at the company. Over the past three years, by addressing such flaws as a male-dominated work culture and a lack of flexible work arrangements and by establishing new networking, mentoring and leadership development programs for women, Cook has nearly halved the turnover rate not only of women but of men. The disparity in turnover between men and women has been all but eliminated, and the number of women in leadership positions at the company has increased twofold. Cook’s achievements on behalf of female employees have been recognized by Working Mother magazine. In closing, Cook mentioned his own daughters’ business careers. “I think about what I’d expect of the organizations that they work for. How could I expect anything less from the organization that I am a part of?”
Millstein, whom moderator Professor R. Glenn Hubbard introduced as “one of the founding fathers of corporate governance,” explained that his interest in ethics, and his involvement in corporate governance, came about because of a “profound dissatisfaction with uncontrolled power” while growing up during the Great Depression and the Holocaust. As an undergraduate at Columbia, he began to imagine a paradigm of society and business based on the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith. In this paradigm, people are equal and free to pursue their goals and the markets depend on that freedom in order to work (see “A Vision of Virtue,” page 22). Millstein’s own contribution to this paradigm was the recognition that “people are fine, but they’re not perfect” and cannot be depended upon to act benevolently. Accountability happens, Millstein realized, only when “everybody is watching everybody.”
Millstein began his work in shaping the role of corporate boards in the 1970s, after years of working as an antitrust lawyer. Since then, he has helped transform the relationship that shareholders and boards of directors have with management, encouraging all of them to scrutinize one another. Millstein has made shareholders more likely to respond when a company’s performance is slipping, and he has made boards of directors more aware of their role in making sure that a company is well managed. A conscientious board, Millstein contends, can perform the Jefferson- Smith balancing act of having imperfect people work together to make the world a better place.
Ira Millstein, R. Glenn Hubbard and J. Michael Cook
The Botwinick Prizes, said Hubbard, “symbolize the importance of the ethics program at the School.” He stressed that prize recipients are recognized “not just for their commitment to the idea of ethics but for developing practical and real solutions for ethical issues.” Past recipients of the prizes include Eugene M. Lang, MS ’40, founder and chairman emeritus of REFAC Technology Development Corporation and of the national “I Have a Dream” Foundation; Anita Roddick, CEO of the Body Shop; Lord David J. Sainsbury ’71, who recently stepped down as chairman of J Sainsbury plc to become Britain’s Minister of Science; and Washington Z. SyCip, founder of the SGV Group. The School’s ethics program was founded with a gift from Benjamin Botwinick, BS ’26, and his wife, Bessie, both of whom attended the awards event last fall.