Thomas N. Chewning
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Beta Gamma Sigma
McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia
March 22, 2005
“Everything I needed to know about business ethics
I learned from my parents, my boss and Arthur Ashe”
Good evening and thank you for inviting me to speak. It is indeed an honor.
We at Dominion are very exited about our relationship with the McIntire School and the University of Virginia. Our special bond with McIntire as a Corporate Partner has been particularly rewarding for us. Our executives and other employees enjoy the exchange of ideas that occurs whenever we visit the grounds or when students visit us. Students are not the only ones doing the learning whenever we get together. It is mutually beneficial. We hope that you find the relationship as rewarding as we do.
I title my remarks, “Everything I needed to know about business ethics I learned from my parents, my boss and Arthur Ashe.” In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit it’s not literally true. There are many other people who helped me set my moral compass. The real point of this title is to illustrate that business ethics is a very personal thing.
You can have all the legislation and all the regulations you want, but people will always find a way around them if they want to. Tougher laws are followed by smarter crooks – usually in short order. It’s honesty that keeps people honest, not laws. As Albert Camus said, “Integrity has no need of rules.”
It’s not that I am against laws and regulation. We are a nation of laws. We are a nation of regulations. Most laws and regulations are very important to the orderly functioning of our society. But there have always been people who believe that laws and regulations, just like records, are made to be broken. This didn’t just come about with Enron and WorldCom and Martha Stewart. It’s not limited to business. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And it certainly goes back to the founding of our country. One of the first land deals in the Western Hemisphere after the arrival of Europeans was a bit of a scam. In one of the few times where Native Americans came out ahead in one of these transactions, a tribe from Brooklyn “sold” Manhattan Island to the Dutch even though their tribal lands didn’t include the island.
I believe that you can’t separate personal ethics from business ethics. Ethics are ethics. If you have good personal ethics, you will have good business ethics. You don’t check your personal ethics coat at the door when you enter the office and put on your business ethics coat. They are one and the same.
Whatever ethics you adopt from home, school, at church, synagogue or mosque, and from the community are the ethics you bring to the office. That’s why what you’re learning here at McIntire and elsewhere in life is so important to your ethical behavior in the future.
Growing up in Richmond in the 1950s and ‘60s, I was an active junior tennis player. I played in all of the local tennis tournaments and knew every good player in the area – or so I thought. Along with local tennis tournaments, I played in regional events. The man who organized these tournaments, Bill Riordan, was quite a character. He liked to make up names of players to fill in when there was an open spot in a tournament draw. His favorite was Stan Stanspensak, a 6’6” Polish entry. Instead of writing the word “bye” on a tournament board when there wasn’t a player for that slot, he would write in Stanspensak or some other fictitious name. After a while, I got pretty good at spotting his made-up players.
In 1959, when I was 14, I went to the Middle Atlantic tennis tournament in Wheeling, W.Va. As I was looking at the seeding chart for the 18-and-under division, I saw the name “Arthur Ashe, Jr. - Richmond, VA.” I went over to Mr. Riordan and said, “This time you’ve gone too far. I know every tennis player in Richmond and there is no one named Arthur Ashe.” Mr. Riordan looked at me said, “Tom, there certainly is an Arthur Ashe from Richmond. Come with me and I’ll introduce you.” So, I followed Mr. Riordan. He took me to a table where Arthur was sitting. When I saw him, I knew right away why I had never heard of him. My heart sank.
I learned we had been born just a mile apart and we were living only four miles from each other. But I had never known Arthur Ashe, this incredible tennis player, even existed. That’s how it was then. Arthur was never allowed to play in any of the tournaments in Richmond reserved for white players.
Arthur was a couple years older than me, about 16 at the time. He was a very good tennis player, although it wasn’t until he went to UCLA that he really blossomed. I sat down at the table with him and we talked for quite a while. He was very gracious, even as a young man. I told him where I lived and he said he knew the house. He had helped his father cut a neighbor’s grass a few doors away.
At the end of the tournament, Arthur asked if I wanted to hit with him when we got back to Richmond. Things being what they were, Arthur said I had better ask my parents first. A white player and black player playing together just wasn’t done in Richmond during segregation. I asked my parents, and they said yes. This is one of those events that you don’t realize is so important until later. My parents knew that my playing tennis with a black man wouldn’t be a popular thing. They knew there were risks. At the very least, we could be criticized or ostracized by our neighbors and friends if they found out. As it was, Arthur’s father had to arrange for a “safe” place for us to play, away from everyone. None of the public courts would have us.
But my parents said yes. They knew right from wrong and they knew that teaching me right from wrong was important. So I went to hit with Arthur and we became friends. Saying “yes” that day was one of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me.
As he got a little older, Arthur became frustrated that he had to travel so far to play in tournaments. Eventually he accepted an offer from a tennis official to live with him in St. Louis, where he finished high school. Arthur and I stayed friends. He went to UCLA. A couple of years later, I was fortunate enough to be able to play for UNC.
At UCLA, Arthur became the NCAA men’s tennis champion. He went on to win three Grand Slam singles titles, play on the Davis Cup team 11 times and be the only African-American man to win the U.S. Open. He was the world’s top-ranked men’s player in 1968 and 1975.
Arthur’s accomplishments off the court were every bit as impressive. He was an outspoken supporter of the oppressed. He was an adamant foe of apartheid. He was arrested in front of the South African Embassy in Washington for protesting against this inhumane system. He was arrested again, this time in front of the White House, for pushing for human rights in Haiti. Arthur was the first man that Nelson Mandela asked to meet when he was released after 27 years in prison.
Arthur also embraced other causes, ranging from becoming the chairman of the National Heart Association to promoting educational opportunities for children. He probably could have been a wealthier man financially had he focused only on tennis and making money, but his actions made him a far-richer man.
Arthur learned in 1988 that he was HIV-positive. He had contracted the virus from a blood transfusion when he had open-heart surgery a few years earlier. He kept the news quiet, in part because of the stigma of the time and the desire to keep life normal for his young daughter. He went public with the fact that he had AIDS in April 1992, only after USA Today said it was preparing to run a story about it. Ironically, the journalistic profession is still debating today the ethics of whether the newspaper should have disclosed the illness against Arthur’s wishes.
Just after Arthur’s illness became public, the city of Richmond decided to erect a statue of Arthur. I eventually became the co-chairman of the fund-raising drive. I asked Arthur why he would support having a statue of him erected in Richmond after the way he had been treated by the community earlier in his life. He said, “Just because they turned their back on me, I don’t have to turn my back on them.” That was vintage Arthur. He died not long after, on February 6, 1993.
Even though it was the 1990s, the idea of erecting a statue of a black man in Richmond was not popular. “Firestorm” might be a better word to describe it when a plan was discussed to erect the statue on the city’s Monument Avenue. The tree-lined boulevard gets its name from the fact that there are statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and three other Confederate heroes spaced along its path. Many people black and white – including many of Richmond’s business, social and civic leaders – opposed the location for various reasons. I supported it because there was no greater hero in my eyes than Arthur Ashe. Putting his statue in line with Confederate leaders would show just how far Richmond had come without turning our back on our earlier history.
Before agreeing to help lead the fund-raising effort, I went to my boss, Tom Capps. I really wanted to do it. But having me help lead the campaign was something that could potentially hurt Dominion. In the course of doing business, our company had to interact with many of the business and community leaders who were vehemently opposed to the statue and its location. I was prepared for the personal attacks, late-night telephone calls and even physical threats. But I didn’t want to expose my employer to potential harm. I asked Tom if he had any problem with my becoming involved. Tom didn’t hesitate. He said, “Absolutely not. It’s the right thing to do. Go do it.” One of Tom’s best traits is the courage of his convictions. He decides what’s right and charges ahead, regardless of what other people think. So, with his blessing, I went ahead.
The statue did eventually get erected on Monument Avenue. It was dedicated on July 10, 1996, on what would have been Arthur’s 53rd birthday and a little more than three years after his death. At his request, the statue shows Arthur standing with a tennis racquet in his left hand down low and books held high in the right. He wanted to dramatize the superiority of knowledge over sports. He’s in tennis sweats and there are children sitting at his feet, looking up in admiration. Once again, this feature was requested by Arthur as he wanted to emphasize that children look up to those in the spotlight as role models. I recommend that you visit the statue if you are ever in Richmond. It is a very powerful piece of art and social commentary.
So, what did I learn from my parents, my boss and Arthur Ashe about business ethics?
From my parents, I learned that all people are God’s children and they should be treated as such wherever you encounter them. When my parents said “yes” to allow me to play with Arthur Ashe, they were teaching me a lesson. It doesn’t matter what color a person’s skin is, or where he or she was born. People are people. They should be treated with respect and dignity. Because of that lesson, I had one of the most important friendships of my life. I profited from it immensely - not financially, but in personal terms. I would have been a much poorer person today had my parents said “no” and I had never gotten to know Arthur Ashe.
Today, companies call this life lesson “diversity” or “equal opportunity.” Companies that have good ethics understand that their employees, their customers, their shareholders and their communities deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at all times. They find strength in and benefit from our individual differences and various viewpoints. Companies that value diversity say “yes” when asked to be involved with people who aren’t like them.
From my boss, I learned about the courage of your convictions. Tom Capps may not always be right – not that I like to tell him that – but he always does what he believes is right. His heart has to be in it before he’s willing to do something. If his heart is in it, there is nothing you can do to stop him. It didn’t matter to Tom that a lot of influential people might not like my being involved with the Arthur Ashe statue campaign. All that mattered was that it was the right thing to do.
At the media company Gannett, the corporate credo for many years was, “Do the right thing.” At first, that sounds too simplistic to be useful. But the next time you face an ethical dilemma, tell yourself to do the right thing and see what happens. Most problems resolve themselves when you ask that question and follow what you know is right.
Finally, what did I learn about business ethics from Arthur Ashe? It would be shorter to list what I didn’t learn from Arthur. Let me offer just two things. First, I learned from Arthur that you could be the best in your profession and still have integrity. People who say you need to have a little larceny in your heart to succeed in business are dead-wrong. Arthur was a great tennis player who played by the rules. He got to the top by overcoming many hurdles, including racial discrimination and losing his mother, Mattie, when he was only 6 years old. He didn’t have the hardest serve, wasn’t the fastest player, or possess the most God-given talent. In fact, a mention about Arthur in Sports Illustrated in 1963 called him, “a slender 19 and still a few pounds short of the weight needed for complete tennis excellence.” That was the year he won the Southern California intercollegiate tennis singles championship. Two years later, he was the NCAA champion. I don’t believe that steroids were prevalent in professional and collegiate sports at the time Arthur was playing. But if they were, I am certain that Arthur never would have given a moment’s thought about using them to enhance his performance. First, he understood his responsibility as a role model too much to put children at risk by emulating such dangerous behavior. And second, it just wasn’t Arthur to use artificial means to enhance his performance. Arthur got to the top through old-fashioned hard work, grit, determination and making the most out of the talent he had. Arthur always played within the rules, never cheated on line calls and maintained his grace and dignity even in the tightest matches. That works in any line of business.
I also learned from Arthur that those who succeed in their careers have an obligation to use that success to do good outside of the office and the company. It’s not enough to do well in business. If you succeed there, you need to leverage financial resources, personal contacts and the other things that come with success to do more than make money. Henry Ford said it well when he said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.” Because of his success on the tennis court, Arthur was able to have a huge impact in important issues around the globe. Nobody was going to pay any attention to some scrawny, unknown kid from Richmond, no matter how just his cause. But they paid a great deal of attention to Arthur Ashe, world-champion tennis player, when he spoke up about injustice in South Africa and Haiti, or about the need to provide more opportunities for inner-city kids in the United States.
I have tried to follow that course in my own life. I have enjoyed a very fortunate business career. This allows my wife, Nancy, and me to support our church, alma mater and numerous non-profit organizations. Because of my business position, I am able to direct resources and garner attention for good causes that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
It would be easy for you at this point in your studies to be very cynical and distrustful of business. It seems that every day brings a new disclosure of another business scandal. The companies involved in these scandals are – or, at least were – among the most-respected names in business. In addition to the likes of Enron and WorldCom, there have been Tyco, Adelphia, Global Crossing, Arthur Anderson and even Krispy Kreme. The list goes on and on.
I want to ask you tonight that if you are cynical about America’s business ethics, try to hold that cynicism in abeyance until you spend some time on the inside of business. I can’t promise that you won’t meet some suspicious characters once you start your professional career. You probably already have met some of these characters in your summer jobs and internships or even within the McIntire School. But I think you will find that the vast majority of people in American business are honest, hard-working people who care about doing a good job and doing it within the law. The scoundrels are the exceptions, not the rule. That’s what I have seen in more than 35 years in the business world.
Although it may sound strange, I take it as good news that there are publicly reported scandals and that they do outrage people. As I said earlier, there have been scandals throughout history. There have been people breaking the law for as long as there have been laws. The real test of a society is whether it is serious about unearthing corruption and what it does about it when corruption is found. I’m not happy that some companies have misstated their earnings or cooked the books in some other way. But I take comfort that it is still front-page news. When it moves to the back pages or it doesn’t make news at all, then we’re in trouble.
I’m not thrilled about Sarbanes-Oxley, especially section 404. It has put a tremendous burden on Dominion and thousands of other companies. We have spent millions of dollars complying with Sarbanes and we will spend many millions more. I don’t know that our investors have gotten their money’s worth out of it in terms of better financial reporting. But I am glad that Congress cared enough about the problems we faced with financial reporting that it took some kind of action. Many of today’s scandals are scandals because there are new laws. It’s not that American business got so much worse. In many cases, it’s that businesses are now required to report more about what they were doing. And, again, the good news is that there are people on the inside reporting it. The bad news would have been if these laws were passed and everyone ignored them. It may sound ludicrous, but that’s how it works in many other countries.
When you move into the business world, make it your personal responsibility to live up to your own code of ethics. While it is good that companies have ethics programs and codes of conduct, they won’t mean anything unless you take personal responsibility for your actions. Do the right thing, as they say at Gannett. And, if you encounter something that’s wrong, work to correct it. If you don’t, you are a contributor to the wrongdoing. English writer and philosopher Edmund Burke was right on target when he said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The lessons that my parents, my boss and Arthur Ashe taught me have served me well. They have served me well in my business life and in my personal life. As I said in the beginning, you cannot separate your personal ethics from your professional ethics.
I hope you were blessed with parents as good as mine. I hope that your future bosses will believe in doing the right thing and have the courage of their convictions. And I hope that you have your own Arthur Ashe. Knowing Arthur opened my eyes to new ideas and new principles. Knowing Arthur also presented me with new challenges. Confronting those challenges made me a better businessman and a better person.
You never know when you will find your Arthur Ashe. His name could be staring back at you the next time you look at a sheet of paper. He or she could be sitting next to you tonight. The most important thing to do when your Arthur Ashe asks if you’d like to hit with him is to say “yes” - no matter what challenges it might bring. You will be better for it. Your employer will be better for it. And our world will be better for it.
Thank you for allowing me to make these personal remarks. I hope they will assist you to reflect on your own experiences and to develop clear, sound personal ethics.
Now I would be pleased to take your questions.
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