Business and Personal Ethicsethics trainingEthics Training

Is Ethics Training Important – Just ask Johnny Manziel and Martin Shkreli

Ethical training is as relevant and important for those in business as in sports; as meaningful for a professional football quarterback as for the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. To illustrate my point, let’s talk about the lives of Johnny and Martin. I don’t know if these two men have ever met, but they certainly have a great deal in common.  And the question we must ask is ethics training Important?

Is Ethics Training ImportantIt was Martin Shkreli, former head of Turing Pharmaceuticals who was ordered to testify in front of Congress last February. The congress people specifically wanted to ask Shkreli why he would take a $13.50 pill and raise the per pill price to $750.00, an increase of more than 5,550 percent. Not only has he shown no remorse, he smirked at the panel that was looking into the drug prices.

His unethical decision to raise prices was outrageous and insulting. The venture-capital backed company removed him and he was placed under investigation. His lack of ethics made him a symbol for all that was wrong with “Big Pharma,” but it led to congress uncovering many other companies who have also been accused of price gouging. Shkreli believed that he was above ethical behavior.  In this case is ethics training important?

Now let us turn to Johnny Manziel. “Johnny Football” has just been indicted by the Grand Jury of Dallas County for misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley. The shorthand version of the case, is that Manziel had been out drinking with his girlfriend. They got into Johnny’s SUV and began to argue. He started slapping her around and when she tried to escape the vehicle, he yanked her back in the vehicle and started to smack her some more.

Manziel has been nothing but a disappointment since his first day in the league. He has been repeatedly caught partying and drinking. His off-the-field behavior has been so disgraceful that his agent left him along with his sponsors.  Is ethics training important may be an irrelevant question here since some people could care less.

Not Their First Dance

Neither Shkreli nor Manziel developed their poor senses of ethics from one incident. It rarely happens that way. Shkreli came out of the world of venture capital where he was indicted for securities fraud, creating Ponzi schemes and for trying to buy a degree to a university by making a huge donation. These incidents occurred way before Shkreli acquired the pharmaceutical firm. Though his behavior was thoroughly unethical while he was in the securities industry, he had no formalized ethical training, and so raising prices by ridiculously huge percentages did not phase him one bit.  Is ethics training important?  One could argue here that Shkreli had a pattern of unethical behavior that no amount of training could have changed.

Manziel has been a disappointment since he first stepped into the league. Aside from his failure to win on the field, He has been repeatedly cited for alcohol abuse and DUI’s, has trashed hotel rooms and homes with his partying and committed domestic violence. Though surrounded by agents and “image makers,” psychologists and coaches, no one has ever taught him about making good ethical choices and explaining what would happen to him in terms of consequences.

It is hard to muster any sympathy for either young man. It is a fair guess to say that Manziel will most likely be out of football and Shkreli will not be allowed to return to Wall Street.

Who Needs Ethical Training?

From an organizational point-of-view, there is surprisingly little difference between a pharmaceutical company and a football team. While organizational titles and missions are obviously different, their roles still require them to put a “product on the field” that is fairly priced, ethically presented and backed by a sense of organizational integrity. The key employees of those organizations are the face and the very spirit that the organization should embody.

In the case of the Cleveland Browns (Manziel’s former team) and Turing Pharmaceuticals (Shkreli’s former company), great damage was done because of a lack of ethical training and grounding.

Yes, there are arguments that both men were beyond ethical help given their pasts. In that case I might also suggest that the organizations themselves should have known what they were dealing with before-hand. Manziel was no prize in college (hence being drafted way down in the first round) and Turing had a solid track record of arrogance and fraud. Ethics could have helped the companies, as well as these key individuals, make much better choices for themselves.

There is One Thing that is True

The United States Sentencing Guidelines provide that senior management cannot be held criminally liable for the actions of their subordinates if (BIG IF) they provide ethical training to their employees.  So – is ethics training important?  You bet!  Perhaps ethics training cannot make bad apples good, but it most certainly can provide a legal defense against those bad apples becoming rotten.

Here’s the question – does your organization have an active ethics training program and, if so, is it effective.

If you’re not sure – call me and let’s see if together we can help keep your employees between the ethical lines.


Leave a Reply