Center Director Dan Terris Discusses His Book Ethics At Work as Part of Brandeis's "Meet the Author" Series

Dan Terris, director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, discussed his book Ethics At Work: Creating Virtue in an American Corporation in the Shapiro Campus Center at Brandeis University on November 9, 2005. The book is based on the two years Terris spent researching Lockheed Martin, one of the world's largest defense contractors.

Terris began the talk by recounting the growth in revenue and stature of Lockheed through the 1950s, before the company's 1995 merger with Martin Marietta Corp. He then described a series of scandals that rocked the company in the 70s and 80s and led the company to developing the first formal ethics program in the defense industry.

While Terris praised the company for involving virtually all employees in its ethics awareness program, he argued that Lockheed's approach to ethics still leaves it vulnerable to violations. In the past 13 years, Terris said, there have been 84 instances of major misconduct resulting in $426 million paid in fines and settlements.

Terris believes the problem lies in the fact that Lockheed focuses on breadth when discussing ethics, not depth; the types of ethical dilemmas discussed are those faced by the average employee, not executives with the power to make large, potentially scandalous decisions.

In addition, the company defines ethics in terms of violating specific regulations, not in terms of Lockheed's impact on the larger world.

Of course, the tendency to tackle a smaller problem and ignore a larger one is not limited to Lockheed or the defense industry. Terris conceded that every business and even every individual can fall into that trap, which makes it all the more important to watch out for. "Self-satisfaction puts us at the most risk," Terris concluded.