Finance and Tech Signal Bold Attitudes on Ethics
By Joe Light | March 7, 2011 | Wall Street Journal
Executives in financial services and technology are the most cutthroat in collecting intelligence about competitors, while pharmaceutical executives and government officials are the most trepid, according to a recent survey.
Fuld & Co., a competitive-intelligence consultant based in Cambridge, Mass., presented 104 business executives with hypothetical scenarios that would give the executive an opportunity to collect intel about a competitor, but straddled the ethical line. Participants could rate the scenario as "normal," "aggressive," "unethical," or "illegal."
One scenario asked whether it was all right for the executive to remove his identification badge during a trade show, which would make it easier to speak to competitors without them knowing his identity.
Most industries rated removing the ID badge as aggressive, while health-care and pharmaceutical executives thought it was unethical.
In another scenario, the executives were asked if it was alright to sign up for an interview at a rival company's job fair to see what they could learn from a recruiter.
Every industry thought the tactic was unethical except for government, which merely found it aggressive.
Overall, financial-services and technology companies were the most comfortable with the scenarios presented, while health-care and pharmaceutical companies were the most squeamish, according to the survey, which was completed in the third quarter of last year.
"Companies have different senses of what's right and wrong," said Fuld & Co. President Leonard Fuld.
Some companies might face closer regulatory scrutiny or have clearly defined guidelines that make employees more hesitant about some methods of intelligence collection, Mr. Fuld said.
Technology and financial-company executives tend to be risk-takers in other areas of business, too, which might make them more susceptible to toeing ethical boundaries, said Larry Kahaner, author of "Competitive Intelligence."
Health-care and pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, are subject to high regulatory scrutiny and are also more sensitive to public perception, he said.
"What I've found is that the more money that's involved, the less squeamish people become," said Mr. Kahaner. "If companies have gotten away with stuff over the years, they don't clean up their act."
The survey found that about a third of companies neither have information-collection guidelines nor do they share them with employees.
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