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Community News

Playing the Game of Ethics

From Issue: Volume XX - Number 7
4/6/2012


Aaron Ledesma

USC Athletic Director Pat Hayden

In both business and sports, legal doesn’t always mean ethical.
For the past three years, the John Wooden Ethics in Leadership Award has been reserved for those who see past this moral dilemma. The Chamber of Commerce and CSULB’s Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership acknowledge people and organizations who have made a commitment to community, on either a local, national or global scale, through “ethical behavior and visionary leadership.”

Of this year’s nominees, the award committee chose Pat Haden, USC Director of Athletics and former General Partner of Riordan, Lewis & Haden, as the 2012 recipient. On March 29, the downtown Hyatt Regency, in conjunction with CSULB and the Chamber, hosted a breakfast seminar on ethics and leadership where Haden lead the discussion and was presented the honor.

Early on, Haden addressed both business and sports, declaring “winning and integrity are synonymous.” In hindsight of his accomplishments, Haden identifies his mother as the biggest influence on his moral compass. Haden opened on a light note by translating one of his mother’s more basic lessons to athletic and professional competition.

“One of the things she taught me as a young kid growing up was that you should really think before you speak.” The message set up laughs from a series of quotes Haden compiled of his players, however, the athletic director would later speak more seriously. “Everything I say, I assume is gonna end up on the Internet.”

In the body of Haden’s speech, he cites a passage from John Della Costa’s, The Ethical Imperative. Here, the former USC quarterback examined Della Costa’s claim that the notion “‘greed is good,’ is now essentially operating in the mainstream of North American society.” Haden did not entirely agree with this conclusion.

“It seems to me there’s an influx of ethical young professionals in the American workforce. I had a chance to meet some today at breakfast and that certainly was my experience at RLH and my experience today at USC.”

According to Haden, the youth require more models of “good corporate behavior” in order to believe ethical standards are not only good, but good for business. Panelist Damon Dunn, co-founder and partner of the Tricor Corporation, later reinforced Haden’s point.

“I think that as teachers, as parents, as mentors, our job is to lift the expectations of our young people. In the community where I grew up, it wasn’t that people had zero expectations. It was that they had low expectations, and they met them.”

Haden went on to quote a case study identifying Moral Intelligence as a major contributor in business victories. Developing his message, Haden went on to recount some of the lessons he took from his corporate days. “It was my experience over the 25 years I worked at RLH,” Haden reveals, “that the best CEOs have a set of characteristics and values that create a climate for success.”

Haden learned to appreciate smart and passionate professionals who demand much of themselves, and keep good employees around.

“As I told my children,” Haden shares, “we spend a lifetime building a good reputation and it can be ruined with one silly decision. Nothing is more important than a reputation. Our word means something. We do what we say and we believe in treating all of who we deal with fairly. It doesn’t mean we can’t be tough . . . but we want all parties with whom we deal with to feel like they won too.”

As the athletic director of one of the country’s most prominent sports program, Haden still admits that “Sport is not a matter of life and death.”

“I don’t think winning is everything,” Haden adds. “Not in sport and not in business. Not if you win without principal and honor.”

After accepting his award, Haden was accompanied at the seminar by a holistic panel of speakers. Of them was Rosa Zeegers, senior vice president of Global Consumer Products Licensing at Mattel, Inc. As a seasoned traveler and native of Amsterdam, Zeegers offered simple but dense global insight.

When she spoke with local media on the subject of language and ethics, Zeegers advised not to “assume you understand people because you speak the language. Go one level beyond that. Understand their values before you make conclusions about what they’re saying.”

Co-panelist, Walter Palvo, Speaker and Co-author of the book Stolen Without A Gun, detailed a similar opinion during the Q & A session. When asked how systemic fraudulent activity is in our corporate culture, Palvo was quick to answer. “From what I’m observing, it’s alive and well.”

“I’m always so shocked,” Palvo went on to add. “I can’t believe that they did it. In fact, in the insider trading cases that are currently covered in New York, there’s a couple of universities that were represented, or alumni of universities -- one you may not have heard of, the University of Southern California, and the other one was Stanford.” Palvo’s observation speaks to a growing attitude with respect to ethics, as well as Haden and fellow panelist, Damon Dunn – Stanford Alumni and College Hall of Fame Award holder.

Deep in a climate of NCAA sanctions, Haden and the university have agreed to define their success “for the near term” by committing to compete passionately, but with integrity and create a tighter atmosphere of compliance. The school will also focus more energy on building every sport’s success, as well as encouraging improvement in their graduation rates and performance rates.

While the measures satisfied most, one audience member required more on the subject of compliance and questioned “What impedes the university from creating a culture where you have 100 percent compliance?”

Taking no offense, Haden communicated his dilemma. “It’s hard to put up a fence around the university, and in some ways we don’t want to . . . these are young kids who are gonna have to learn from their mistakes. We want to provide them with the best tools to make good decisions.”

aaron@longbeachcomber.com