When the ethics officer is publicly silent

As someone who used to cover business and the economy, I was impressed by Best Buy’s willingness on Monday to lay its dirty linen out for review.

The results of an internal report found ex-CEO Brian Dunn had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate and that company founder and Twin Cities business icon Richard Schulze knew about the allegations months before they were exposed but didn’t do the right thing and take it to members of the board. It cost Schulze his chairmanship.

What I didn’t realize yesterday is that Best Buy has a chief ethics officer, Kathleen Edmond, with her own website where she explores corporate ethics.

Nothing publicly from Edmond so far on Dunn or Schulze, although there’s a recent post on how a friendly internal competition at Best Buy went bad.

The competition was relatively informal and the activity tallies were largely based on the honor system (i.e., employees could designate which activities “counted” toward the contest).

After the fact, a quick review of the data revealed that contest participants, as a group, had obviously inflated their results. Although it was an internal contest and there was no effect on the numbers we report to the public, nonetheless it was a concern.

When pressed on the issue, many participants claimed to know of co-workers who included non-qualifying activity in the contest tally but, of course, no one admitted to doing so themselves.

I went looking on Edmond’s site for something in April after Dunn resigned and the Star Tribune reported that Best Buy was investigating Dunn’s conduct with the female employee.

Nothing then on her website either, although in late April she wrote a post asking, “Are We Blind To Our Own Ethical Choices?” where she riffed off an NPR interview of an upstanding businessman who eventually committed fraud.

Here’s hoping Edmond follows her company’s lead and writes something smart and insightful about the ethical choices of Best Buy’s leadership — and what role she’ll play in remaking the culture there.

– Paul Tosto

  • Jim Shapiro

    Oversight is crucial.

    Although BUSINESS has been granted person-hood status by the supreme court to enable money to run our democracy, to expect a business to do the right thing on it’s own is sadly the height of naivete’.

    Thanks for once again strengthening my faith in humanoids – this time in the form of Kathleen Edmond.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Hopefully Ms. Edmond is not the before mentioned female subordinate (grin). But she was most certainly suburdinate to both Dunn and Schulze, which puts the ethics officier in a tight spot. What happens when the boss — and the boss’s boss — are the wrongdoers?

    I have worked at several jobs (not my current one) where I was aware of misconduct by somene at the top, but I (and everyone else) felt powerless to do anything about. I’m sure I my experiences are not unique.