Friday, November 6, 2015


Keynote Address for the Convocation of the American College of Dentists
Washington, DC; November 5, 2015

The advantage of discussing ethics is that there is always fresh material. People and organizations constantly find new ways to disappoint.

Just this week, the federal government imposed the largest civil penalty in its history – $200 million on Takata for defective air bags. Earlier, company officials tried to comfort consumers stating that their air bags only exploded in humid weather.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “Takata built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to its customers or the public. The result of that delay and denial has harmed scores of consumers and caused the largest, most complex safety recall in history.”

Last month, General Motors paid $900 million in fines and settlements for fatal accidents caused by faulty ignition systems.

GM’s CEO admitted, “People were hurt and people died in our cars.”

Also last month, Volkswagen was caught using something called a “defeat device” to pass federal and state emissions tests while emitting up to 40 times the legal limit.

Volkswagen had to pay fines of $7.9 billion in Europe and is paying an additional $3.6 billion in claims in America. This illegal practice was used for six years before being discovered.

In September, the CEO of Turning Pharmaceuticals increased the price of a critically important medication by 5,000 percent stating they had to make a normal profit. The public outcry forced a retreat on this price.

As recently as October 23, the CEO was portraying himself as a martyr saying he was doing people a favor by putting his drug out of reach, “Nobody wants a seven year old drug. They don’t want six month old phones”. I guess he hasn’t heard of Aspirin.       

A few weeks ago, the National Football League proudly announced that September was the first calendar month since 2009 that no active NFL player was arrested.

This brings us to being here in Washington, DC, the epicenter of unethical behavior.

Recent polls show trust in government to be the lowest ever. According to the Gallup Poll, over 60 percent of Americans think our Federal Government is fundamentally corrupt.

This perception is definitely based on reality. It would take the rest of this evening to catalogue what sordid and corrupt things happen in any given month in this town.

Let’s focus on the ethical challenges within Dentistry. This last May, Dalhousie University’s Dental Program had to confront immoral behavior and sex scandals among its graduating class.

Also in May, a Florida dentist was forced to close his practice after a class action suit accused him of torture and abuse of child patients. He was also under investigation by the State of Florida for Medicaid fraud

This June, Medicaid fraud investigators uncovered $191 million in unallowable orthodontic services in Texas. Dentists were putting braces on the teeth of thousands of poor children who didn't need them. Ninety percent of those procedures were against state rules.

One of the few times a dentist led national news was in July when a Minnesota Dentist paid poachers to lure a famous lion away from a wildlife preserve in order to shoot it.

This last case shows your challenge is to bring honor to all aspects of your life. As a leader of your profession, you must be a role model beyond the office.

Ethical lapses seem to be getting worse with broader impact.

What is going on?


Not immoral – AMORAL

We live in an age where morals and ethics are not factored into actions – period.

Many only ask “can we do it”, instead of “should we do it”.

At the heart of AMORALITY is only focusing on compliance with laws and regulations.

A person or company pursing AMORAL Compliance without ethical or moral standards loses not only their rudder, they lose their keel.

AMORAL compliance means - when costs need to be cut, or processes expedited, compliance gives way to parsing the law or creative interpretations of the law.

A functionary in Tammany Hall, the 19th Century political machine that ran New York, famously mused, “What is the Constitution among friends?”
This is the essence of AMORALITY.

There is no fast lane to power or riches – unless AMORALITY guides the way. The reason Washington is synonymous with deceit and corruption is that so many people in this city have lost their way. The enticements overwhelm the mission to the point of becoming the mission. Nothing gets done, but everyone on the inside lines their pockets, build their influence, and find ways to cover their tracks.

AMORALITY is not just the domain of politicians.

Too many people; too many companies; embrace AMORALITY.

Their fig leaf is compliance.

They think rudimentary compliance is all that is needed to get through life. As long as the paper trail says we did the right thing – the right thing happened.

The fundamental flaw is that too many start to think compliance is a game they can beat.

Unfortunately for us, most get away with gaming the system, and doing real harm, before they are discovered and brought to justice.

Think of the list of recent examples we just heard. In every case, someone in charge weighed the odds and the costs of real compliance versus going through the motions compliance. There was just enough wiggle room between the law and their reality to cut a corner. The rest is darkness.

Ethics is not something you can charge off on a balance sheet.

Once you approach your work, your patients, your friends, your life, as a series of actions only governed by a set of regulations you have lost your way.

Those who succeed; those who earn and maintain trust; those who build and keep a solid reputation; do not think of compliance – they think of Aspiration.

Compliance should not just be the ceiling you bump up against. Compliance should be the floor from which you strive for excellence.

Here is one more example.

On September 19, a Georgia jury convicted the CEO of American Peanut Company of knowingly allowing tainted food to enter our stores and kill eight people.

It was the first federal felony conviction for a company executive relating to food safety.

Compare this with Hershey Foods - Their sole focus, on a daily basis, is creating products people can trust.

Hershey Foods has provided the world with candy since 1903. I was lucky enough to lead a four-year consulting engagement among their seventeen plants. The aroma therapy alone was worth it.

The difference between Hershey Foods and the Peanut Company of America is Hershey’s obsession with ethics. Every Hershey plant is like an echo chamber of reminders that Hershey products are consumed by children and that every Hershey employee should make candy as if they were taking it home to their own families.

Hershey figured out how to put ethics into their daily routine and hard wire it into their culture.

Here is one way you can be like Hershey - Every one of us manages a personal reputation bank.

We make deposits when we consistently meet the needs of our customers, clients, or patients.

We earn interest when we collaborate with members of our practice and partner with our patients to achieve life-long health.

We expand our capabilities when we recognize and value the input of everyone on our team, including administrative staff.

Our reputation bank can remain healthy and profitable for our entire lives, but only if we understand the lessons of Hershey.

At the heart of every successful organization or person, is an ethical culture. Ethics is not just something you should embrace because it is a “good thing”. For successful companies, and practices,

Ethics is a business imperative. Ethics is a competitive advantage. Ethics builds customer loyalty.

Ethics helps you survive in troubled times. Alternately, Ethical lapses break the connection with your customers and colleagues. Not honoring commitments, arbitrary actions, shoddy workmanship, all destroy the bonds of trust. Trust, once violated, is almost impossible to rebuild.

Erosion of trust then drains deposits and profits from your reputation bank. When ethical lapses become a dominant pattern, grow harmful, or allow lying, cheating, and stealing - there will be a run on your reputation bank. The world is littered with empty reputation banks – just look at carcasses of Enron, Lehman Brothers, Worldcom, Qwest, Tyco, and FREDDIE MAC. In each case - executives thought they could game the system and outsmart reality, but reality eventually won. Violations of ethics are like tweeting, texting, or posting on Facebook – you can delete, but you can’t erase.

You may remove the immediate evidence, but the reality of your actions never goes away.

You are now members of the American College of Dentists. You were chosen because your peers saw you embodying the best of your profession. You are now leaders in promoting the highest ethical standards in dentistry

Think about what it takes to be a leader of ethics. Excellence is not about compliance. It is about aspiring to be the very best and to serve as a role model – not only to your peers, but to colleagues in all professions and to businesses in your community.

Think about the examples of failure you have heard. How many ways did leaders and their teams lose their way? How many ways did a compliance mentality lead to gaming the system?

Now think of Hershey. Think of companies and organizations in your own community that you admire. Find the common thread. At its heart will be people aspiring to be the very best. These are the people who understand and have mastered management of their relationship bank.

Think of how you can be a dentist with a practice that is a role model for others.

From this day forward that is your life’s mission.

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