To Thine Own Self Be True – It’s Better for Business – What Arthur Anderson Would Say to His Company

Posted on 14. Apr, 2009 by in Business Ethics, Featured Articles

To Thine Own Self Be True

To Thine Own Self Be True

Shel Horowitz

As a child, you probably heard, “to thine own self be true.” But what does that really mean? When the newspapers are full of cheating and lying business owners, politicians, and academics, does it really make sense to maintain your integrity?

To me, the answer is a clear, unwaffling YES! Without your integrity, you really don’t have a business or a career–just a waiting game until you world comes crashing down around you.

But fear of being caught isn’t the reason to live your life with integrity. The real reasons are that it helps you get to where you really want to be, and lets you feel really good about yourself.

Sometimes, integrity involves taking risks. Here’s an example from my own career:

A graphic artist and I were at a pitch meeting to produce some materials for our local Board of Realtors. The organization had registered a very obscure domain name that only had meaning for them.

The “safe” thing to do would have been to nod our heads and continue the conversation. But when we heard the domain name, the graphic artist and I exchanged looks, and we started telling the organization why the domain they’d picked would be a marketing disaster. I told the executive director to imagine giving out that name on the radio, and to look at a name that would reinforce the group’s identity and message.

We went out on a limb; this was a free consultation during a meeting to pitch for business, and if someone was really attached to the name, we might never have gotten the job. But we all brainstormed a bunch of better domain names–and then a few months later I got a call from the president of the largest real estate firm in the service area. He had been impressed at that meeting and came to me to rewrite the firm’s entire collection of a dozen or so brochures–a very juicy assignment. By advising the client that its course was strewn with obstacles, I had put myself in the position to receive a much, much larger assignment, one for which I was not competing against any other copywriters.

Over and over again in my life, I’ve achieved or drawn closer to my goals by turning down work I didn’t feel good about, refusing to compromise with my core principles, treating others with respect, and expecting high standards of others. I’ve even had to educate a few clients about plagiarism as I refused their assignments.

Arthur Andersen, the founder of the accounting firm that was driven out of business by integrity failure, lost a major account after refusing the company’s request to engage in exactly the sort of unethical accounting that later brought down his company–early in his career, when he wasn’t sure he could meet his next payroll. He told the client that there was “not enough money in the city of Chicago” to change his mind. Too bad his successors didn’t understand this!

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About the Author:
Copywriter, marketing consultant, and speaker Shel Horowitz is the author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First (, Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World (, and other award-winning books.


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