"Lose Your Ethics, Lose Your Business"

Last Updated Apr 23, 2008 1:50 PM EDT

Check out this wonderfully scathing missive from Joe Scarlett, the former CEO of Tractor Supply, on how an ethical lapse led to the biggest beef recall in history, and the destruction of a company, Westland/Hallmark Meat.

There's so much about the California meat scandal that is beyond comprehension - there are allegations that company employees used forklifts, electric cattle prods, and high-pressure hoses to force sick cows to stand up - but Scarlett makes some solid points, in this article titled "Lose Your Ethics, Lose Your Company," about how the ethical behavior of the low-level employees can be traced to the corporate culture of the leadership.

"The ethical and moral direction in any organization must be set by the CEO and the senior executive leadership," he wrote in the Nashville City Paper.

While all employees are responsible for their own actions, I agree with Scarlett that the real culprits here are the Westland/Hallmark leadership for creating a culture where this type of behavior was acceptable; or, just as bad, creating a culture where this type of behavior was not deemed unacceptable.

"We follow our leaders," Scarlett wrote. "When they set the right direction, we follow; when they set the wrong direction, or more commonly no direction, we wander into 'no man's land.'"

Have an ethics dilemma? Email wherestheline (at) gmail.com

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.