Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How Much Profit is Too Much?

Yesterday, ExxonMobil announced its 2005 profits--the largest of any corporate entity in any year in history.

$36.13 billion, of which $23.2 billion was distributed to shareholders (up $8.3 billion over last year's distribution.

The company obviously feels embarrassed by its riches. The press release, linked above, is full of all sorts of justifications and rationalizations.

The simple truth is that this is simply an obscene amount of money, and ExxonMobil should be embarrassed!

Especially since this was the year where gas prices shot up by over 30 percent for a while, before settling down. Especially considering the impact in the Gulf of Mexico of environmental damage wreaked by hurricanes going through the offshore oil rigs. Especially considering the wretched fate of New Orleans' poor. Even Wal-Mart, not exactly a paragon of corporate virtue, managed to dedicate significant resources to the relief effort. But for ExxonMobil, it's just another chance to line the pockets of its shareholders.

While no oil companies have totally clean hands, I will continue to buy from more responsible companies like Citgo and BP whenever possible.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ken Lay's Trial: It's About Time!

Let's see...if I'm not mistaken, it is now 2006. If I recall correctly, we are talking about an indictment that was handed down in 2004, for crimes allegedly committed in 2001 and earlier.

You've got to wonder--would it have taken so long to come to trial if Ken Lay hadn't had so many "friends in high places?"

Oh, and I think a fair punishment for Lay and his ilk would be some jail time and then strip him of all assets, use them to at least partially reimburse the innocent Enron employees who watched their retirement nest eggs go up in smoke, make him get a job in a factory somewhere, pay him minimum wage, and let him see if he could support himself in the style to which he's accustomed. Oh yes, with community service in the form of unpaid presentations to b-school kids on how he "done us wrong" and what the human consequences were. It might be rather educational, don't you think. And cheaper for us taxpayers than throwing away the key.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Ethics of Publishing a Liar's Memoir

I've been quietly following the James Frey flap for a couple of weeks now. This is the guy who got Oprah's endorsement for his "memoir" of addiction, jail time, and so forth (I will not make it easier to locate by naming the book here)--only it turned out to be fiction.

When this was revealed, Oprah first defended him for creating a gripping read that addressed deep issues, etc. The other day, she snapped out of the trance and tore him apart on camera.

Meanwhile, the author claims he originally submitted it as fiction, the publisher--no tiny little outfit but Doubleday, one of the biggest in the nation--first called in creative nonfiction and when that didn't fly, said that Frey had hoodwinked them.

It would be very illuminating to see Frey's original book proposal and see where the truth lies. Meanwhile, the thing stinks.

Best commentary I've seen on it is from Pat Holt of Holt Uncensored--she is always worth reading.

As of this writing, she hasn't archived the column yet, but she has some great suggestions:
  • Offer a refund for any reader who wants one, and make that process very easy
  • Hire website muckrakers like to vet any book that claims to be nonfiction
  • Get Frey to rewrite the book and send him out on tour to flog the vastly different rewrite, which would be priced at half of the original

  • Thursday, January 26, 2006

    Catching Unethical Photo Manipulation

    We've all shared a laugh as improbable images cloned together in Photoshop make their way across the Internet. The problem is that image manipulation can be used very unethically--to fudge scientific results, for example

    a Boston Globe story documents how editorial staff at the Journal of Cell Biology is running all submitted photos through Photoshop to detect fraud. (The New York Times ran a rather clearer article, but it requires paid access.)

    And they've discovered fraud is rampant enough that they've had to yank 14 accepted papers. In some cases, they're even notifying the institutions sponsoring the research to check into the accuracy of the researchers' findings.

    After the scandal with Hwang Woo Suk and his faked stem cells, such caution is unfortunately necessary. And form a science point of view, I find it fascinating that Photoshop can not only alter images, but tell you if an image is already altered.

    Saturday, January 21, 2006

    Extraordinary Photos of Cross-Species Communication

    A bit off-track for this blog, but this has to be shared: these pictures of elephants, eagles, whales, etc seem so human, and the organizers claim they're unretouched. Those in southern California may want to seek out the exhibit in Santa Monica.

    I pass on the post from my good friend Nenah Sylver:

    Subject: Ashes and Snow - extraordinary California photography exhibit on the

    This is what I've been told:

    In the Ashes and Snow exhibit, there is no digital layering. All the images are as the photographer saw them and have not been digitally enhanced. All of the animals are wild and people friendly.

    The new exhibit will be shown at the Santa Monica Pier mid January through May. Many of the actual photographs are about
    5 feet by 8 feet in size.

    You can see them on the web here:

    Follow these directions: click on "Portfolio" and then double click on the image. To see more images, keep double clicking, and the images will change.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Yet Anther Reminder: Ethics Scandals Have Victims

    This from a financial currency exchange newswire:

    A corporate scandal involving Livedoor, a Japanese high tech company caused such a big drop in the stock market that trading had to halt on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

    People get hurt when other people cheat. Ethics crimes are not victimless. Just ask those poor Enron employees who saw their retirement funds go up in smoke as the company stock turned worthless.

    Run your company the right way...Sign the Ethics Pledge so you can brag about it. And build a company that grows itself and the economy instead of shooting it in the foot.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006

    Are Progressives/Liberals Finally Reclaiming the Values Turf?

    I went to a bookstore the other day and noticed two books prominently displayed on the same front table:

    Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, by none other than former President Jimmy Carter, and a Beacon Press anthology, Global Values 101, featuring such well-known progressive thinkers as Howard Zinn, Amy Goodman, Robert Reich, and Lani Guinier, among many others.

    For more than two decades, the ultra-right has staked a claim around "values." Unfortunately, the values they claim are not my values or the values of most people I know. Just as one example among many, the term "family values" has been far too often used to create a climate of acute homophobia--of bigotry. These people claim they're in favor of family values, but their definition of family only includes one among various possible models: a dominant husband, a stay-home wife (or one focused far more on home than career, if she does work outside the home), and zero tolerance for divergence from the model.

    Well, I see a whole lot of families that don't look like that, but that are loving, secure places for the partners and their children. And I see plenty that do fit the "traditional family values" model where abuse, infidelity, and/or alcoholism seem to rule the day.

    Let me be clear: there are, of course, plenty of loving, supportive families with a husband and wife in a heterosexual marriage; I am blessed to live in one. But our family is founded on tolerance, on freedom of self-exploration, and on the firm value of making the world a better place than we found it by helping to break down barriers of bigotry.

    So I find it very refreshing, as the author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, a book with a strong values message within a progressive context, to see major publishing houses beginning to publish books like these.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    PR and a Mega-author: Susan Harrow Makes Over Malcolm Gladwell

    I have a lot of respect for media coach/PR queen Susan Harrow, author of one of my favorite PR books (Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul) and the go-to person if you want your author on Oprah. I've subscribed to her newsletter for years and it's one I actually do read.

    Susan's launched a new project: celebrity makeovers by nomination (e.g., these are not really her clients). She starts with advice to Malcolm Gladwell. I've read Blink and a chunk of The Tipping Point but have not heard him speak. I think I have heard him on radio but it didn't leave much impression.

    Susan goes after him to improve his speaking delivery in a big way, and all the points she makes sound valid. Speaking is a vital communication tool for authors. But she also tells him to shave his hair. Looking at his picture on her blog, I think it's kind of cute. I'd vote for a little trim maybe, but not a radical new look.

    But I sure do hope we haven't reached the point on the glitz-scale where someone with as important a message as Gladwell is judged on his or her hairstyle!

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Nice remark from another copywriter colelague, Mordechai "Morty" Schiler, in his blog:

    While I'm still grappling with integrating marketing and principles, Shel Horowitz has made a career of balancing the two.

    I'm hoping his "grappling" will lead him to sign the Business Ethics Pledge; I know from past interaction that he's a highly ethical person, just too humble to take credit for that position.

    And how about you?

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    Microsoft Bows to Chinese Censors

    The New York Times reports that China pressured Microsoft to take down a blog that mentioned a journalist strike at a Chinese paper following the firing of a journalist. The blog was hosted on a server in the U.S.

    Mr. Zhao said in an interview Thursday that Microsoft chose to delete his blog on Dec. 30 with no warning. "I didn't even say I supported the strike," he said. "This action by Microsoft infringed upon my freedom of speech. They even deleted my blog and gave me no chance to back up my files without any warning."

    Tacky, to be sure. But some bloggers speculate this could lead to much worse: Gridskipper claims the Chinese threatened to convert the whole country to Linux and Movable Type, e.g., non-Microsoft. That site won't let me copy and quote, but here's the link.

    And I've just spent ten minutes trying unsuccessfully to locate the comment I saw that wondered if MS would be equally cowardly in the face of illegal requests from our own US government--which, considering all the stuff coming out about illegal White House-authorized spying, etc., is not such a big leap.

    One of Microsoft's own most public bloggers, Scobleizer, the "Microsoft Geek Blogger", had this to say:

    OK, this one is depressing to me. It’s one thing to pull a list of words out of blogs using an algorithm. It’s another thing to become an agent of a government and censor an entire blogger’s work. Yes, I know the consequences. Yes, there are thousands of jobs at stake. Billions of dollars. But, the behavior of my company in this instance is not right.

    He goes on to talk about moral courage, his grandmother who stood up to the Nazis in Germany, and his own action contacting higher-ups at Microsoft about this issue. Good for him!

    Meanwhile, a message to all bloggers, and all who rely on any outside hosting for your data: Keep backups on your own system!

    I maintain this blog on two different servers--but maybe I should keep a file on my hard drive, as well.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Wal-Mart's Former #2 Caught Stealing

    One could almost feel sorry for Wal-Mart. For all its vaunted IT structure, a theft as easy to spot as this, and so high up the ladder. Read the CNN story about former vice-chair Thomas Coughlin's guilty plea. For falsely obtaining and using half a million bucks' worth of store gift cards!

    Just got to wonder what's going on.

    But then again, this is the same company that routinely hires contractors who use illegal aliens in near-slave-labor conditions...has a long history of generating environmental lawsuits...exports jobs from the US to China by demanding its suppliers cut prices substantially every year...uses the US government to subsidize its employees' healthcare, and even then tries to get rid of workers who are most likely to submit health claims. Oh yes, and runs roughshod over the local populace that doesn't want them. In my own town, we're engaged in a battle to block a Super-Wal-Mart that by the company's own studies will completely gridlock the main artery between the two college towns on either side of us. There are already three Wal-Marts within ten miles of my house, including one half a mile from this new project (that they will close likely abandon) and an existing Super Wal-Mart two towns south. The proposal is to pave over 50+ acres of farmland and wetland with the largest building ever constructed in our town (that's a town with several shopping malls and a large sports/concert venue). And did I mention that our town, Hadley, Massachusetts, is considered to have the absolute best farmland in the entire country?

    The list of what's wrong with Wal-Mart could go on much longer; there are several books on the subject.

    Don't get me wrong. I'll praise Wal-Mart when praise is due. It's happened once so far, in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

    But I do find it very enlightening to compare its business practices with Costco's. Not surprisingly, Costco's bottom line is more attractive, too.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Everything You Might Possibly Want to Know About Abramoff

    In this Wikipedia article with a gazillion hotlinks.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    A Spy Victim Dies; A Lobbyist Confesses

    Some historical perspective on spying, as recorded in the New York times obit for Frank Wilkinson, McCarthyite scapegoat and First Amendment activist who went to jail to defend his principles

    But Mr. Wilkinson was not finished with the federal government. When he discovered, in 1986, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been compiling files on him, he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for their release.

    He was sent 4,500 documents. But he sued for more, and the next year the F.B.I. released an additional 30,000 documents, and then 70,000 two years later. Eventually, there were 132,000 documents covering 38 years of surveillance, including detailed reports of Mr. Wilkinson's travel arrangements and speaking schedules, and vague and mysterious accusations of an assassination attempt against Mr. Wilkinson in 1964.

    Meanwhile, yet another right-wing extremist, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has entered a plea bargain and promised to implicate a number of his buddies in Congress. He admits to influence peddling--and former Republican Senator Ben Knighthorse Campbell accuses him of trying to rig elections on Indian reservations, as well. Abramoff has close ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, current House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and other ultra-right honchos. The Wall Street Journal has said the number of US Representatives implicated could be as high as 60, most of them on the Republican side, but so far, only Robert Ney of Ohio has been specifically named. (Sorry, WSJ's website structure doesn't allow me to copy the link)

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    A Year in the Blogosphere

    This blog was launched on December 29, 2004, which means it just turned one year old. So allow me to wallow in a bit of reflection, please.

    I'd delayed blogging for a long time, because I'd thought that to be taken seriously, a blogger needed to post daily. I even tried to organize a group of non-blogging marketing pundits to each take a day of the week in a communal blog. That effort went nowhere, but I think at least three of us now blog regularly. Once I realized that many bloggers post once a week or less, I knew I could handle it.

    I started the blog with a few agendas. I wanted to:
  • Create a platform for my ideas and rants, of course
  • Open a doorway to a syndicated op-ed newspaper column (a dream I've had for decades) Support the Business Ethics Pledge campaign
  • Become more widely known in the worlds of business ethics and progressive politics
  • Develop new readers who would then buy my books, subscribe to my newsletter, etc.

    And in fact, in the spring, I went through my blog entries, selected seven or so, polished them, and submitted them to four different newspaper syndicates--all of whom turned me down. But I'll keep trying.

    The blog has veered away more often than I'd have expected from what I'd originally thought of as its core topic: business ethics. But I already have a platform to talk about that: my newsletter, Positive Power of Principled Profit.

    It's also hard to tell what impact it has, or where people are learning about it. I get very few comments, and many of them are from people I've steered to the blog via a post to a discussion list or one of my newsletters.

    So, this year, one of my goals is to build more traffic to the blog, which will be mirrored both at and on my own site.

    There have been a few signers of the Pledge that I believe found me via the blog, and a few useful contacts. Hopefully, over the next 12 months, I'll be able to know for certain that the blog is helping to shape the discourse.

    And meanwhile, there's revamping the PrinProfit site, hosting my radio show (which I hope to syndicate as well), getting publicity for the Pledge, selling more foreign rights, and tons of other stuff. somehow, I find time to do at least some of it, between client copywriting and consulting projects.