Integrity in business

  • Business
  • Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014

IT WAS a rainy afternoon and I was seated at a coffee shop with a youngish businessman. He was a contact that was referred to me by an acquaintance.

Amid the sound of the falling rain, I was trying to pitch my marketing and PR services to this gentleman.

For a moment, he listened intently. He looked keen and responded positively to all my questions. But suddenly, he asked “Are you familiar with the business awards that are offered now in the market?”

I answered in the affirmative, as getting awards to add more prestige and credibility to a company’s brand are also part of the marketing portfolio. He went on to explain and expound on the many benefits of the “award-conferring” trade. He had heard that it is a lucrative business and easy money. According to him, some can earn up to millions just by organising an event for the award ceremony and selling event tables and trophies to the “award winners”.

While he is aware of the dubious nature of some awards, he says that the awarding companies are getting away with it and earning big bucks.

And then he pops the question, “Can you do it? As a business, I mean?”

In effect, he was trying to ask me if I could offer my service to run this award-conferring business for him.

“I could”, I said. “But I won’t”.

For a moment, he looked a little stunned at my quick and candid reply. Why not, he asked? I told him that it was a matter of integrity. Yes, I could probably earn a lot of money very easily in the short run. But in the long term, people will know the truth about the award and I do not want to be known as someone who parts people from their money. That is not the legacy or the reputation I want.

I know for business people, sometimes the lines can be blurred when it comes to maintaining integrity and exploiting money-making opportunities. Where do we draw the line when it comes to questionable business practices? Or do we move the line and justify to ourselves that as long as we are not harming anyone, we are alright? Sometimes, the more money we make, the harder it is for us to make a stand.

Several years back, I was taught a lesson in integrity by a night market hawker. She did not have enough change to give me for my purchase and told me to come back to her stall after my rounds, so she could pay me back the remaining RM1. But after my rounds, I completely forgot about the matter and left the night market.

A few weeks later, I went back to her stall after completely forgetting about the RM1. After buying my usual items, she took my money and gave me back the RM1.

“I did not give you back the RM1 change from your last visit”, she said. I was pleasantly surprised.

This hawker probably had more than a hundred customers every week. And she could easily pretend she had forgotten about me or the RM1 since I had forgotten too. Yet she demonstrated to me what I think is the highest level of integrity.

Some people would probably tell me that it does not make good business sense to be too honest, especially in my line of work as a marketer. Some people perceive marketers as spinners of tales. To them, it makes sense that if everyone is lying anyway and no one can be trusted, then they should do the same.

Recently, I was hit with another astounding discovery. People even lie in their resumes these days.

I came across a resume of someone who stated she worked in my company from 2009 to 2010, whereas my company only started operating in 2010.

Where has integrity gone indeed? Has lying to and cheating others become something we can do so effortlessly now, to get our way? One day, when we are no more, do we want people to remember us as the rich con man? Or someone who does right by others?

> Jeneanisha stands by her motto to not do to others what she does not want others to do her. Which is also why she replies all emails to her her promptly. So do email her at

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Opinion , Jeanisha Wan


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