Dr. Helen Caldicott: A Profile of Integrity

August 15th, 2014
Jim Thomas

There are many ways of looking at the cardinal virtue of integrity. John King, an MBA student at Loyola University, defined it as “being the same person all the time.” Robert A. Reed, CEO of Physicians Mutual Insurance, said integrity means “not straddling the fence—living a principled life consistently.” Author Charles Watson sees the virtue as a “consistency between standards espoused and actions taken.”

All point to the core truth that integrity means holding fast to the right ideas, even when it is difficult, inconvenient, or unprofitable. In looking for those exemplify it we came across the career of Dr. Helen Caldicott, a native of Australia and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

She is among those featured in the book Hope and Heroes, by Madelaine Palko and Shannon Fitzgerald.

As a practicing pediatrician, Dr. Caldicott became aware of the harmful effects of nuclear radiation. In 1971 she learned that France was testing nuclear weapons in the South Pacific near Australia. Alarmed, she addressed a letter to a local newspaper detailing the harm the testing could cause. The mainstream media picked up the story and extensively circulated it. As a result she became an international spokesperson for the growing nuclear disarmament movement. She went even further. Combining medical knowledge with her leadership skills, she organized rallies and protests. One year later the French government abandoned further nuclear testing.

In 1980 Dr. Caldicott resigned her lucrative and prestigious position in medicine to become a full time anti-nuclear activist and educator. Her’s is a vivid case of standing by the right ideas.





For A New York Fish Store, Integrity Pays Off—Big Time

April 25th, 2014
Jim Thomas

You will find this gem of a fish store exactly where it has stood  for four generations, on East Houston Street on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Its owners and managers are the Russ family, heirs of the great grandfather who founded it a century ago. He started out peddling smoked herring from a pushcart in a teeming Jewish Ghetto.

Nothing remains the same. The neighborhood has changed. New York has changed. Diet and food consumption have changed. The old-fashioned grocery is virtually a thing of the past. The druggies and prostitutes that once plagued the area have come and gone. Russ & Daughters remains steadfastly in place, purveyors of mackerel, sturgeon, kippered salmon, smoked salmon, whitefish, and the like.

And it has flourished. Today, the store continues serving herds of dedicated walk-in customers, but it also takes orders online and ships fish by FedEx. Believe it or not, it now employs behind the counter a Sherpa fish-slicer conversant in Yiddish.

Why, through it all, from pushcart to revered institution, has Russ & Daughters prevailed? Because, it settled on a set of time-tested standards for doing business. They were the right standards, from which deviation was unacceptable. It was dedicated to its physical place and location in the City’s scheme of things. Its owners scoured fishing boats and smokehouses for the finest products available. Employees were obsessed with customer satisfaction and an abiding cheerfulness toward each who entered their shop, even the difficult and the obnoxious.

The cardinal virtue of integrity invokes an adhesion to standards; those that withstand scrutiny, that one way or another are beneficial to all concerned, irrespective of the inconvenience or difficulty. Across four generations, the Russes have known these truths and practiced them. And, they have reaped the rewards.


Holding Fast to Principles—Costs and Benefits

March 21st, 2014
Jim Thomas

For the individual, holding fast to a principle, conviction, standard, or value often carries both costs and benefits. It can cost one a friend, a sale, a contract, a client, a patient, a job, a promotion.  On the other hand, steadfast integrity preserves the one asset no one no one can afford to lose—one’s self respect.

Consider this incident from the 1970s at the Environmental Protection Agency. [Names are disguised to protect confidentiality.]The EPA was in the market for a new scientific instrument capable of measuring light and chemicals in water. John Doe was an EPA Area Director with responsibility for reviewing proposals submitted by vendors competing for the contract.

As it turned out, a company in Washington DC, owned by A. Jones, Doe’s long-term friend and professional colleague, was among the competitors. Their friendship dated back to Johns Hopkins University, where the two men shared housing while working on their PH.ds. Their friendship and professional contacts continued across the years.

When Jones’s company submitted its instrumentation proposal, EPA researchers found it contained a minor flaw. It failed to measure photosynthesis in water to the required levels. Doe had to make the final judgment rejecting it.  He received a phone call from Jones. Invoking their long-standing friendship,

The contractor appealed to Doe to approve his instrumentation. In addition he reminded Doe they were dealing with public money only, not each other’s private funds, and he, Jones, “needed some of it.”

Doe declined to budge. Said he; “I would have helped my friend any way I could. But the standards for measurement were the standards. The instruments either met them or it did not. It was a close call, but Jones’s instrument failed the test.  I was at peace with the decision.”

From that day forward, Doe never heard from Jones. When their paths crossed at professional conferences and meetings, Jones refused to speak and broke all further contact with his old friend.

Doe lost a friend but kept his self-respect. Said writer Brad Blanshard:

What above all else puts power into our ideals, what sets the drive wheels of the  moral engine in motion, is not a schedule of dogmas of first and last things, but the picture in one’s mind of something one has to be if he is to keep his self respect. It is the most powerful of motives, for it is what no one can afford to lose.



Professional Deception, Harmful Products and Hero Hypocrisy in the Grocery Isle

February 3rd, 2014
Jim Thomas

People know hypocrisy when they see it. They recognize and condemn it for what it is — an adversary of trust, credibility and reputation. Hypocrisy springs from professing one set of beliefs, then either ignoring, disregarding or acting contrary to them. One wag characterized the hypocrite “…as he who would cut down a 2000-year old redwood then mount the stump to talk about conservation.”

The antidote is performance with integrity. Keeping in mind that integrity means one can be trusted to do the right thing — even when it is inconvenient, difficult or unprofitable.

Prevalent among rich high-profile athletes is hypocrisy at its worst. They recommend products that are harmful and receive millions for doing so. In its piece, “Nutrition Facts,” Sports Illustrated (October 28, ’13) reported examples, relying on a study published in the October 7 issue of Pediatrics, entitled “Athlete Endorsements in Food Marketing.” Sports Illustrated cites eight athletes, ranging from professional football players to stock car racers. For touting mostly harmful food products, they received a low of $5 million to a high of $25.1 million.

What were they endorsing?  They were associated with 44 different food or beverage brands. Seventy-nine percent of the 62 food products in athlete-endorsed advertisements were energy-dense and nutrition poor.  Ninety-three percent of the 46 advertised beverages had 100 percent of calories from added sugar. The writers at Pediatrics (mainly PhDs) concluded: Youth are exposed to professional athlete endorsements of food products that are energy dense and nutrition-poor.

Contrast these breaches of integrity with the upright behavior of Arthur Godfrey, first of the great radio and TV pitchmen of the 40s, 50s and 60s. He enjoyed popularity because audiences and advertisers trusted him.  He refused to endorse cake recipes until he, himself, had cooked and tasted the cake. He refused to continue representing the maker of Chesterfield cigarettes when he learned of their propensity to cause harm.  He severed a lucrative contract with Colgate-Palmolive when it was discovered its laundry product, Auxion, contained phosphates, a water pollutant.

Godfrey set a forgotten example that today’s athletic idols and mass advertises would do well to follow. Everyone stands to benefit.


September 5th, 2013
Jim Thomas

David Ratcliff, former President and CEO of the Southern Company, was the speaker at a breakfast meeting in Atlanta in 2008. The title of his talk was “The Integrity Problem in Corporate America.” In his remarks, he encouraged use of the smell test. Speaking metaphorically, he said it was his experience that when one smells smoke somewhere something is burning. Hence, said he, apply the smell test.

 Ratcliff is not alone. Professionals, managers,  and others assess questionable events by asking, “Will it pass the smell test?”

 The smell test is a useful tool for encouraging performance with integrity. You will find numerous definitions of it. At Alliance for Integrity, LLC we say it consists of certain simple but piercing interrogatories. One directs them at circumstances and  transactions that on the surface appear  inappropriate, however slight. Or in Mr. Ratcliff”s words, “Do we see or smell smoke?”

The smell test inquiries:

  •  How would it play if we read an account of it in print or broadcast media?
  • How would we feel in describing the matter to a disinterested party, spouse, or friend?
  • Laws, rules, regulations, policies aside—does it violate our general concepts of right or good?
  • Is fairness diminished?
  • What is the potential, if any, of causing harm?
  • Does the rule of unintended consequences have application?
  • Does the matter in question withstand moral scrutiny?

 A major strength of the smell test it that it activates how others judge the situation as well as  the parties involved.

A case in point:

 On August 11, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a front page story regarding  Fulton County Tax Commissioner, Arthur Ferdinand, who collected tax-lien fees on top of his substantial salary. The paper reported the Commissioner had found a way to collect a 50-cent fee on each and every paid-off lien, thereby adding tens of thousands of dollar to an annual salary of $368,000, the highest of any public official in the State of Georgia.

 The Commissioner’s actions are authorized and legal under a statute that has remained on the books since the 1930s. The legality, however, did not silence his critics. Said one, “The law may permit what he is doing, but the question is does it pass the smell test?”

 Your opinion? Does the Commissioner’s conduct pass the smell test?

Integrity: Essential Ingredient of Those We Trust

August 29th, 2013
Jim Thomas

   “If you have integrity you don’t even need the rules.”

                                                    ____Albert Camus        

 In a recent column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Editor Bert Roughton pointed to the citizenry’s low levels of trust in leaders of government, business, non-profits, and the media, and in   the institutions themselves.

  For instance, the Edelman Trust Barometer’s 2013 Survey revealed that less than one-fifth of the general public believes business leaders will tell the truth when confronted with a difficult problem. The Editor alluded to the adverse consequences of this unfortunate trend.

 To turn things around, Mr. Roughton urged an ‘agenda of greater integrity.’ Agreed; performance with integrity is, indeed, a foundation factor of  trust and credibility. Now as never integrity has no downside; it cannot be over-emphasized. Furthermore, in this frantic hyper-connected age, one of non-stop media and internet transparency, everything lodges in cyberspace. And, somebody somewhere is always watching.

 Public trust matters. It undergirds confidence in an organization’s leadership; it affects the value of its goods and services, as well as the reliability of its advertising and promotions. On June 26, the Wall Street Journal wrote  that as European Union leaders headed for a summit meeting “…they face a crisis harder to fix than their debt problem…a loss of trust in the European Union itself.”

  If institutions and their leaders are to embrace enhanced integrity, they do well to probe the meaning and embrace the essence of it. Not surprisingly, the sovereign virtue is easier to identify than define.

 The word “integrity” comes at us from every point on the compass. Yet, few pause to define it, or to describe its contributions to everyday life. Even fewer search for its governing tenets—until   they face being compromised and losing their self-respect.

 In substance the virtue radiates adhesion.  It means adherence to principles that withstand moral scrutiny, that are beneficial to the parties involved. Pared to its bed rock basis, integrity is an uncompromising loyalty to the right ideas—even when it is inconvenient, difficult, or unprofitable. In sum it encompasses the right choice, at the right time, for the right reason, even if no law, rule or regulation, requires it.

 Here is how it looks up close. Those for whom integrity is an imperative  place a premium on trustworthiness and   reputation; they  keep their word in matters great and small; they ascribe a heavy weight to accountability; they deliver as promised, when promised, in the manner promised; they stand up and are counted when it counts; they refuse to play fast and loose with the rules. They exert scrupulous honesty and tell the truth regardless of the consequences, knowing full well that when declaring the truth hurts ultimately it helps. And, they abide by the proven proposition that HOW they perform is as critical as WHAT they perform.

 Therefore, responsible and responsive leaders—wherever you are—grasp this timeless message. Advance Mr. Roughton’s ‘agenda of integrity.’ We, you, and the public interest—all of us, stand to benefit.

Standing by the Right Ideas—Ray Kroc’s Example at McDonald’s.

July 22nd, 2013
Jim Thomas

In Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, published in 1943 and a modern classic, her character Kent Lansing, a real estate developer, speaks to his architect about integrity. His definition of integrity is one of the finest in the language:

 “And what, incidentally, do you think integrity is? The ability not to pick a watch from your neighbor’s pocket? No, it’s not as easy as that…Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presumes the ability to speak.”

 I would amend Lansing’s definition by adding a single word. Hence, “Integrity is the ability to stand by the right idea.”

 Ray Kroc of McDonald’s Corporation, in rock-solid fashion, demonstrated what standing by the right ideas means in business life, and elsewhere. He was largely responsible for building it into the world’s leading fast food company.  

 In 1954 Kroc was 52, married, living in Chicago with his third wife, Joan, and traveling the country as a milkshake equipment salesman. His business afforded an inside look at the operations of fast food restaurants and short order diners, and Kroc was always the astute observer. He also confessed to having consumed a great deal of fast food. As the years passed, he formulated an unshakable belief that the three essentials of a successful dining experience were Quality, Service, and Cleanliness. He labeled his credo the QSC

 As chief executive of McDonalds, QSC became Ray Kroc’s guiding standard. Throughout the organization he preached and practiced it wherever he went. No one could cite an instance of his veering from it, compromising it, or failing to enforce it. (He was often seen cleaning the bathrooms when visiting a store.)  McDonald employees trusted their chief explicitly because he lived what he believed, and stood by what he said, so others would know too. The big yellow arches sprouting all over the nation were proof Kroc’s ideas were sacrosanct.

 Kroc’s performance with integrity painted a timely and timeless message.  Integrity enforces purpose. It generates commitment.  It strengthens standards at all levels, encourages adherence to values, and magnifies the firm–the brand–products and services. In the immortal words of Bill Rosenberg, founder of Dunkin’ Doughnuts,”With integrity you deliver as promised, when promised, in the manner promised.”

Strengthen Your Organization With a Code of Integrity

June 11th, 2013
Jim Thomas

We hear and read about “Codes of Ethics.” Far less about the indispensable “Codes of Integrity.” Yet, it is Integrity that is the first great element. And, it has no down side. It cannot be over emphasized. Here is a model from which you can mold a Code of Integrity for your organization. All you stand to gain is a magnified, stronger, more competitive organization.


 We, the staff and personnel of (name of organization), adopt this Code as our commitment to conduct with integrity in all our affairs, work related and otherwise. We shall adhere to its words and spirit, confident they will lead us to the right decisions, at the right time, for the right reasons—irrespective of the inconvenience or difficulty.

 No document can cover every problem and predicament. However, with fidelity to this Code we can make choices that are consistent with our commitments.

 Therefore, we hold and affirm:

 1. Integrity means upholding ideas, standards, values—including our products and services—that withstand scrutiny; that are beneficial to those directly involved;

 2. Performance with integrity leads to trustworthiness and reputation; on each we place supreme importance;

 3.  We promote a culture of integrity by assuming full responsibility for our words and actions;

 4. Our word is our bond. We keep it in matters great and small. We stand accountable for our achievements as well as mistakes;

 5. We strive to deliver our products and services—as promised, when promised, in the manner promised;

 6. HOW we perform is equally as important as WHAT we perform. Thus, we decline to cut corners or play fast and loose with rules, regulations, and proven policies;

 7. When problems arise, we avoid expediency and rely upon the tried and true;

 8. We stand by the proposition that loyalty ends when integrity is jeopardized;

 9. We hold fast to the truth, regardless of the consequences. We practice scrupulous honesty, knowing that upright conduct spreads beneficial influence among all concerned.

 When in doubt we shall pause, reflect, use our best judgment, and allow the foregoing to direct us on the proper course.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013




Alleged Kickbacks at Drug Company Trample Integrity and Prove Costly

May 9th, 2013
Jim Thomas

The lesson is well known yet frequently ignored. Avoiding the timeless tenets of integrity can result in costly fines, penalties, and huge lawyer fees. The lesson holds, in particular, for a company with a high-profile in the market place.

This time civil investigators claim the breaches occurred at Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Two lawsuits filed in Federal Court aver; (1) the company made fraudulent kickbacks to promote sales of its products; (2) that it provided illegal rebates and discounts to 20 or more influential pharmacies for persuading doctors and institution to switch from other drugs to Myfortic, a Novartis medication. Novartis says it will defend the allegations.

Three years ago Novartis faced similar charges. Then the accusations were; (1) that it promoted drugs to health care professionals for uses unapproved by the FDA; (2) that it provided kickbacks to physicians in the form of entertainment, appointments to advisory boards or speaker programs. Some activity it was claimed was contrary to Novartis’s own internal policies. Novartis denied all allegations then and now. However it settled with the government in the earlier suit with a payment of $422.5 million.
In addition, Novartis was also required to sign a “Corporate Integrity Agreement.” Its terms, in part, ensure compliance with regulations that apply to drug promotions.

These debacles and their attendant costs are preventable. How? With conduct and procedures that place a premium on Performance with Integrity. A few of its feature include:
1. Adoption of a Code of Integrity
2 Preaching Integrity at Meetings and Gathering
3. Awarding Personnel who Demonstrate Integrity
4. Periodic Internal Integrity Audits

An “Integrity Checklist,” “Guide for Drafting an Integrity Code”, and a “Model Code” are available at no cost from Allianceforintegrity.com.

The Lapses of Integrity in J.P. Morgan’s Escalating ‘Whale’ Scandal are Proving Costly

March 18th, 2013
Jim Thomas

The revelations were painful to watch, Top executives of J.P. Morgan, the nation’s largest bank, testified last Friday before a U.S. Senate committee investigating the firm’s $6 billion losses last year in derivatives trading. Appearing distressed, defensive, even apologetic, one executive after another described failure to uphold standards in the world of high finance. The breaches have damaged the New York bank’s superb reputation for prudent management of financial risks.

Integrity entails upholding correct standards—irrespective of temptations otherwise. When a preeminent firm like Morgan breaches integrity the costs in diminished reputation, trust, and reputation are high. Once damaged reputationsare torment to regain.

The testimony revealed numerous lapses. Playing fast and loose with regulations, the bank failed to furnish regulators mandatory reports of profits and losses. Meanwhile losses were reaching monumental levels. Transparency failed from contradictory phone calls to and from regulatory officials. References flew from a 301 page report accusing Morgan of misleading investors and regulators about risks taken by trading operations in its London offices. Deviations occurred when the bank declined to volunteer profit and loss data until huge losses were already in place. There was testimony that Morgan’s London traders began placing inaccurate prices on their positions as losses grew in early 2012.

More testimony is expected this week.

Though easy to identify, integrity in the abstract if often overlooked. But its true meaning is there for all to see who will see. It radiates an adhesion. It means adherence to a set of standards—convictions—principles—even when inconvenient, difficult, or unprofitable to do so. The standards are those that withstand moral scrutiny and are beneficial to the parties affected.

Albert Camus said, “If you have integrity you don’t even need the rules.”

The cardinal virtue of integrity allows no compromise with the truth. Silence when there is a duty to speak, ill-advised avoidance, the fudge, sidestep, waffle, cover-up—indeed fabrication of any form—are lethal adversaries of Performance with Integrity. Of these verities, J.P. Morgan’s conduct in the escalating “Whale” scandal provides another timely and timeless lesson.