Ethics, Economics, and the Value of Diversity
By Jake Weber; photos by Dave Lawrence | April 17, 2013
In discussing global business in the 21st century, Michael Harrington's Isaac Alumni Lecture address was decidedly not "business as usual." Harrington, senior vice president and general counsel for Eli Lilly and Company, noted that beyond the free market and technology-aided communication, values such as ethics and embracing cultural diversity underpin the success of business in the 21st century.
Harrington noted the free market itself has spurred globalization, as trade has trumped ideology worldwide over the past few decades. Harrington recalled business meetings with Communists in China and Vietnam, all keen to reap the economic benefits of business with Lilly. Those partners told Harrington that while they were "Communists on the outside, labels and uniforms didn't matter. What mattered was economic integration," Harrington said.
He noted, too, that technology has made Lilly a global company far beyond simple service of international markets. Lilly and its many business partners conduct compound research, clinical trials, manufacturing and marketing in dozens of countries. In turn, this work in far-flung places has stimulated corporate diversity.
"The year I graduated from Albion, all the senior leaders of my company were white American men, mostly from Indiana," said Harrington. "We weren't an aberration but it also wasn't true that the people most qualified to run a pharmaceutical company were, by some fluke, white men in Indianapolis. … As a result of our increased diversity, we're better able to compete in a global marketplace."
"Globalization is so profound, irreversible and pervasive, that one must squarely address those implications regardless of where one lives," said Harrington. "No one is isolated in this system of interdependence; what happens in Cyprus or China affects all of us."
Yet the characteristics Harrington says are key to success in this global world are not isolated in management, finance, or law. Rather, Harrington noted the importance of ethical behavior, courage, flexibility, and respect for cultural differences.
"I have a deep skepticism of a view of corporate globalism where economic opportunity is unhitched from a corresponding obligation to do good works," Harrington said. "Employees must be as safe in any manufacturing plant in the world, as I am in my office in Indianapolis," he said, noting that environmental and living wage concerns are equally important. "Global ethical conduct is a means, not an obstacle to sustained commercial success."
In stressing the importance of flexibility, Harrington gave students some concrete advice on the notion that Albion is preparing them for jobs that don't yet exist. "I don't define myself as a lawyer, I think of myself as a globally curious business leader with a degree in law," Harrington said. "Don't be an internist or a hospital administrator; be instead a thinker committed to healing and public health. The way we define ourselves defines how open we are to change, new challenges, and opportunities."
Finally, Harrington emphasized the idea that cultural awareness is central to modern business, stressing that firms of all sizes work with international partners, markets, and competitors. "This is where the good work that you have undertaken as a college community comes in," he noted. "Attending a Passover Seder, a lecture by a 1960s activist, or a local GLBT event—you are exercising the muscles of understanding, and you will need those muscles to be strong in that regard."