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Conscious Corporate Citizenship at Work
A Q&A with Rohit Malik ’07, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, Citigroup. Rohit spoke to the Bernstein Center in regards to Citigroup's mission, his experience with the Student Leadership and Ethics Board, and how he lives out the credo of the CBS Honor Code, which he helped develop, in his personal and professional life.
Post-financial crisis, Citi truly worked on enhancing and revamping its culture. Can you expand upon Citigroup’s code of conduct and how it relates to your role and everyday professional life?
Citi’s mission is to serve as a trusted partner to its clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth and economic progress. Each decision at Citi must meet three tests: 1. Does it serve our clients?; 2. Does it create economic value; and 3. Is it systemically responsible? The third branch of this test, “Is it systemically responsible?” undergirds Citi’s code of conduct post-financial crisis and works hand-in-glove with Citi’s mission to provide financial services in an ethical way.
“Systemically responsible” is a short-hand way of saying that Citi must act as a steward, a caretaker for its clients’ finances in a way that also reflects its important obligation to society. Government regulators post-financial crisis recognized Citi to be one of the “Systemically Important Financial Institutions” (“SIFI”) that were “Too Big to Fail.” With this designation, all of Citi’s actions are scrutinized by governments to ensure it is complying with all regulations. And Citi aspires to go above and beyond the mandate of regulation to present itself to the world as an exceptional corporate citizen. As an M&A attorney at Citi, I consider it my duty to protect not only the institution itself, but also the clients, employees and other stakeholders Citi serves throughout the world in every business transaction I work on.
Can you tell us a little more about your experience with the pro bono cases you have worked on fighting to protect employee rights? How did you get involved with these cases and why are they important to you?
I have worked on pro bono cases ranging from helping a disabled woman receive her Social Security benefits, ensuring that a nanny received her due wages and overtime pay, getting unemployment insurance for a chef who could not adequately represent himself before a government tribunal, to advocating for a victim of deceptive lending practices who suffered bankruptcy because she could not pay exorbitant mortgage interest rates. I have always felt that our political and legal systems do not adequately protect the vast majority of our citizens. And by representing people who would not otherwise have access to a competent attorney makes me feel like I am playing a part, however small, in remedying this injustice.
“And by representing people who would not otherwise have access to a competent attorney makes me feel like I am playing a part, however small, in remedying this injustice.”
How did your experience with the Student Leadership and Ethics Board and the Bernstein Center help form your leadership skills, core values and/or principles?
Prior to joining SLEB as an MBA student at Columbia Business School in 2006, I felt alone in thinking that the purpose of business is much deeper than profit maximization. SLEB introduced me to a community of like-minded individuals who understand that business can have a much greater impact on society than making money for shareholders, that business has an important obligation in raising the standard of living throughout the world and improving the quality of life of employees and consumers alike. By organizing various events pertaining to such topics as the role of the fast food industry in the obesity epidemic to how corporate governance can be improved to mitigate the chances of financial malfeasance, I realized that if you demonstrate a sustained commitment to ethical values in both your personal and professional life, people will join you – even those whom you thought would be the least likely to.
During your time at CBS, you were involved with developing the Honor Code which is interwoven into the fabric of student life here at CBS. Why was the initiative of importance to you and why do you think it has had such long-lasting staying power and implications for current students and alumni alike?
All too often, the rules and regulations of our society are very lengthy and cumbersome. This is why we have so many overworked law graduates every year trying to pass the Bar Exam. The Honor Code was a pioneering attempt at trying to encapsulate the rules of CBS into a few pithy lines that people could take to heart. As well as providing “don’ts,” the Code provides values that students and alumni can aspire to. Rather than being dictated from on high, the Code emerged from the students themselves. And that is the message: An ethical Code that you can follow and aspire to in your personal and professional life, not because someone dictated it to you, but because you know in your heart and in your conscience that it’s the right thing to do.
“And that is the message: An ethical Code that you can follow and aspire to in your personal and professional life, not because someone dictated it to you, but because you know in your heart and in your conscience that it's the right thing to do.”
What piece of advice would you give to current MBA students in regards to building their moral and ethical muscle during business school?
The world after business school will have no shortage of ethical dilemmas and temptations to breach your ethical conscience, both in your personal and professional life. From your safe place on Columbia’s campus, you may not be able to contemplate what lies ahead. But use that sanctuary of Columbia to test yourself, challenge your fellow students, professors and guest speakers to consider the ethical decisions of various institutions. Join clubs that help you imagine your own role in morally difficult situations – what would you do? You will have several chances to fail and learn in business school. The world outside may be less forgiving. Train yourself in this zone of experimentation to develop your own set of values, principles, and good habits that will guide you for the rest of your life. And even if and when you fall short of your values whether in business school or beyond, learn to forgive yourself, pick yourself up, and go for it again. But never give up on your values, because more than anything else, they will see you through.
Are you an alum who is interested in sharing your story or thoughts about ethical leadership? Please feel free to contact our Center using the Pitch A Story form.