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Let’s face it. Ethics is not the headlined feature in our news. In NSW, we have the Royal Commission, ICAC’s long list of corruption inquiries, and of course there are our Parliamentarians. Corporate Australia is not immune to serious allegations of duplicity either.

Despite those acting under laws of fiduciary, Australians voting for politicians to lead and inspire future generations, a week rarely passes in our country without allegations of severe fraud and corruption surfacing – implicating individuals in positions of power and high public office.

Where Are All The Ethicists?

An ethicist is defined as one whose judgment on ethics and ethical codes has come to be trusted by a specific community, and (importantly) is expressed in some way that makes it possible for others to mimic or approximate that judgment. Following the advice of ethicists is one means of acquiring knowledge. (source: Wikipedia.com)

Step outside the main, and there is a new breed of ethicist emerging – the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are typically ex–corporate, defined as a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. (source: Dictionary.com)

Although not traditionally highlighted as ethicists, recent interviews with a number of leading Australian entrepreneurs reveal a very different motivation and passion – yes, they do manage risk, yes, they show initiative, but their key motivator is to lead values-driven businesses. They start small, and then scale by building, and leveraging, foundations of honesty, trust and integrity. For many entrepreneurs, ethics is the new black.

Your Business Brilliance, a company launched this year by Sanjay Pandaram reached No.1 in Australia on ITunes recently for its series of podcasts, the premise of which, interviews successful entrepreneurs to attain their insights and knowledge. The show is now aired in over 49 countries.

Of the 97 or so businesses interviewed to date, Sanjay advised “The common thread for successful entrepreneurs is they are values driven, rather than focused on sales or power” he adds, “many of them are ex corporate, and reached a point in their career where they felt things just weren’t right. These people are very authentic, intelligent and have a lot of passion and integrity. They will do the right thing, even if it costs more, or involves collaborating with competitors.”

Clare Mann, an Organisational Psychologist and Managing Director of Communicate 31, has developed a notable reputation for her high standards of principled practice through the provision of consulting and training services to companies and individuals, “My executive coaching work has been influenced by ethics – as I continue to be approached by executives who struggle with reconciling demands of their jobs with ethical considerations.” Much like the work Clare does to support her clients, she proudly advocates the same values in her own business model – even if it means revenue loss.

“I don’t think we can separate who we are from what we do and so key values and ethical considerations have always infused our work…we have walked away from very lucrative contracts when we learn that partners or customers are behaving unethically, despite their justification for why we should continue working with them.”

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Another commonality of entrepreneurs is their passion for work life balance. Not just for themselves, for all involved. Despite being adept at managing gaps, they don’t seize the opportunity to harness power and control, choosing instead to impart their knowledge and learnings through just practices – through this approach, they build thriving and engaged communities of clients.

In the picturesque wine region of McLarenvale in South Australia, a local company, Scoop SA, has scaled to incredible growth servicing local chefs with the region’s primary produce on the back of a passion for community involvement and principled work ethos.

Rachel McMillan, Director and Founder, advised ethics was the key to her leaving her corporate career and embarking on a journey of entrepreneurship, “I could have made many shortcuts in the early days to get a better return initially and not acted ethically along the way but I would not have built the respect that Scoop now enjoys. The ethical nature of our business brings increased customer satisfaction through quality produce, relationships and the knowledge they are supporting the local community.”

The biggest return on investment from acting with integrity, she advises is “loyalty”.

Similarly, Simone Novello, Managing Director of Partner2GROW, a seminar based company that empowers business owners to utilise the benefits of partnership marketing, is now reaping the rewards of a values based business – however sacrifices were made along the way to preserve her ideals.

“I believe my ethical positioning has meant my company has grown more slowly from a profitability perspective however we now have a fast growing community of very loyal and happy partner friendly clients…it was never about making a quick cash grab if it was something I didn’t believe had genuine value for our clients” she adds, “I only want to work with clients that I believe we can genuinely help – it means they have a higher lifetime value to us and are more loyal.”

In June this year, Business Insider Australia released a report following interviews with 26 of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs. The report featured advice and tips to small business owners regarding their views on how they achieved success in their own companies.

Despite diversity in markets, company size and services offered by the group, the shared advice of attainment was the same – honesty, trust, collaboration and open communication. They collectively considered these values to be the cornerstone of their thriving businesses.

Whilst it is very reassuring to know that a significant segment of the market is committed to ethical practices, the question needs to be asked – what is the real contribution of these entrepreneurs to the Australian economy?

According to the latest report from the Department of Industry, Innovation Science, Research and Tertiary Education (Dec 2012), Australian small businesses alone (where the main of entrepreneurs start) make a significant contribution to the Australian economy, accounting for slightly less than half of private sector industry employment and contributing approximately one third of private sector industry value.

With over 2,000,000 businesses registered in Australia (source: ABS, 2012) the potential ripple effect of the new breed of entrepreneur is nothing short of exciting for us all.

It is important to note, good and bad co-exist everywhere. If we were to take the view that Australia’s most successful and emerging entrepreneurs are credible advocates of ethical leadership, this group could be integral in not just driving the economy, but the greater public interest – and a better Australia.

Words by Katrina Savell, Director, The Word Depot (www.theworddepot.com.au)


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