Microsoft official delivers Ethics Conference keynote

April 1 2008

Drawing on his experience as a federal prosecutor and playing a video produced by one of the business world’s most infamous companies, Odell Guyton didn’t take long to drive home his point about the consequences of ethical lapses during a speech Tuesday (April 1) at Indiana State University.

“If you get it wrong … you may not be able to see your children graduate from high school; you may not be able to see your children get married because you might be wearing a jumpsuit in the crossbar inn,” Guyton said.

The warning to more than 200 students, faculty and businesspeople came barely one minute into Guyton’s keynote address during the Indiana State College of Business' third annual Ethics and Corporate Responsibility Conference.

“Do not lie - especially to men wearing gold badges and carrying guns,” Guyton, who is now compliance officer for Microsoft Corp., said in a presentation that also laid out plans for effective compliance with laws and ethical guidelines.

Guyton served as a deputy district attorney in Philadelphia and as assistant U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania. He recalled using federal racketeering laws to prosecute savings and loan fraud cases in the 1980s - charges that carried a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“You can see that the government is serious about this,” he said. “Be careful. If you’re going to be a professional, be the best professional you can be. Understand the environment in which you live and work and be aware of what’s going on around you in the business world.”

It is a world filled with new federal laws and regulations designed to protect employees and shareholders, Guyton noted during his presentation. Many of those laws and regulations were enacted in the wake of such scandals as Enron and Worldcom.

Guyton played an Enron Corp. video that touted the now failed energy company as an ethical giant.

“Enron is a company that deals with everyone with absolute integrity. We play by all of the rules. We stand by our word. We mean what we say; we say what we mean. We want people to leave a transaction with Enron thinking that they’ve been dealt with in the highest possible way as far as integrity and truthfulness.” former CEO Ken Lay said in the video.

“It’s all lies,” Guyton said of the video, noting that Enron was viewed at its peak as one of the most progressive and ethical businesses in the world.

As students prepare to leave the university and go out into the business world, it is important for them to remember that the assets of a business do not belong to a corporation but rather are held in trust for shareholders, Guyton said.

“If you treat that as your own, you are violating that trust,” he said. While Enron may have espoused the theory of doing things right, the real issue is “doing things in the right way,” Guyton said.

In the wake of the demise of Enron and Worldcom, a host of new state and federal laws and regulations are now in place and corporate chief executive and chief financial officers can be held criminally liable for violations, he noted - and it is up to everyone in business to be aware of “all applicable laws.”

When a student asked where to turn to learn about laws applicable to a particular business, Guyton stressed the importance of continued education.

“If you are part of a profession, such as law or internal audit, you’re going to have a basic training but you can’t stop there. You have to join associations; you have to network; you have to have to speak to other people in your field. You have to have a continued focus on learning,” he said. He also encouraged his audience to read the business press to keep up with current practices.

Guyton’s presentation included seven steps for effective compliance:
* Establish standards: Establish standards and procedures to prevent and detect criminal conduct
* Set examples: High-level personnel shall ensure that the organization has an effective compliance and ethics program
* Management integrity: Exercise due diligence and not place individuals with questionable backgrounds into positions of substantial authority
* Communicate and train: Communicate the standards and procedures of compliance to all employees and conduct effective ethics training programs
* Prevent and detect: Ensure compliance and ethics programs are followed, evaluate the effectiveness of such programs, and publicize a confidential system for the reporting of suspected wrongdoing
* Promote and enforce: Promote and enforce compliance and ethics programs consistently throughout the organization
* Address and respond: Take reasonable steps to respond appropriately to criminal conduct

“Ethics compliance and social responsibility are highly important. It does reside at the top but it also resides with each individual within a corporation. Any person with responsibility must know the right thing to do and how to do it in the right way,” Guyton said.

“It’s important for students to understand that it is key to be truthful in what they do in their profession,” ISU junior Racheal Titus said. A junior accounting major from Toledo, Ill. Titus was co-executive director of this year’s student-run conference.

“The importance of this conference is to give students the opportunity to learn more about ethics and corporate social responsibility outside of the classroom in a setting that gives the issue more focus. The conference also gives students a chance to network with professionals and students from other universities,” she said.

In addition to the keynote speaker, the day-long event included breakout sessions ranging on such timely topics as employee wellness, corporate leadership, outsourcing and going “green.”

ISU’s annual Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility Conference is planned and presented by the university’s Networks, Gongaware and Presidents Scholars in the Networks Professional Development Program. That program is part of Networks Financial Institute at Indiana State University. Founded in 2003 through a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., Networks facilitates broad, collaborative thinking, dialogue and progress in the evolving financial services marketplace.

Financial services has been recognized as one of two programs of national distinction at Indiana State under an initiative funded by a separate Lilly Endowment gift designed to strengthen the university’s most distinctive and promising programs.

Photo: Odell Guyton, director of compliance for Microsoft Corp., was keynote speaker Tuesday at the Indiana State University College of Business' third annual Ethics and Corporate Responsibility Conference. ISU/Kara Berchem

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

In a presentation that both warned current and future business leaders about the consequences of ethical lapses and offered a plan for compliance with laws and regulations, Odell Guyton, compliance officer with Microsoft Corp., served as keynote speaker for the Indiana State University College of Business' third annual Ethics and Corporate Responsibility Conference.

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