Ethics and Society Breakfast - Find Your True North and Confront Uncomfortable Truths

More than 100 guests joined the Centre for Ethical Leadership and our co-host, the University of Queensland, for the Enduring Values for Volatile Times Ethics and Society breakfast on Friday 23 March at Ormond College, Melbourne.


The event centred around a panel discussion facilitated by Princeton Professor and Citigroup in-house ethicist, David M. Miller, with guests:

  • Mark Hutchinson, former CEO of GE Europe and prior to that, CEO, GE China. 

  • Olivia Brown, former COO of M&A for investment bank, Goldman Sachs. 

  • Peter Collins, Director of the Centre for Ethical Leadership. 

Find Your True North 

Find Your True North Ethics and SocietyMark Hutchinson talked about the importance of finding your 'true north' because it will form part of your personal brand, which carries you through your career. Both Mark Hutchinson and Olivia Brown revealed they had each walked away from multi-million dollar deals for ethical reasons.  Olivia felt declining work for ethical reasons was the best decision for her career because it improved her professional reputation. 

Speaking about his time as a consultant at McKinsey, Peter Collins noted that questioning decisions and strategy was expected and that his pay was docked if he didn't put forward dissenting views to the leadership team. 

Australia's Inadequate Whistleblower Protection 

Peter Collins expressed his views that Australia's whistleblower protection is woefully inadequate compared to other countries. 

"It's difficult to be a whistleblower. It's a very hard road and you're on your own. You can be worse-off for having spoken up and it's a terrible indictment on Australian organisations. As ethical leaders, we need to create systems and improve whistleblower protection so people can make their own principle stances and address the wrong-doings they see," said Peter. 

Confronting Uncomfortable Truths 

Mark Hutchinson talked about his time as the CEO of GE in China. A whistleblower revealed GE employees and their largest Japanese client, TETCO (who purchased billions of dollars of equipment from GE each year) had been covering up cracks in a nuclear reactor.  The GE business leader went to the CEO of TETCO and was told not to say anything, with TETCO offering their assurances the problem would be fixed. GE made the decision to go to the government and the media and disclose the problem. As a result, many GE and TETCO employees were sacked. 

"It was absolutely the right decision we made. At GE, we use the examples of what we've done wrong in the company to teach our staff about ethics," said Mark. 

Feedback from Attendees 

Vincent-Fairfax-Fellowship-Alumna-Andrea-HullVincent Fairfax Fellowship alumna (2014/15), Professor Emeritus Andrea Hull AO, was pleased to hear examples of strong ethical leadership in practice. 

“It was refreshing to hear some corporate leaders extolling the virtues and eventual rewards of ethical behaviour in an era of despair about the lack of ethics in the behaviour of political leaders, and the various Royal Commissions,” said Professor Emeritus Hull. 

Dr Sarah Ogilvie, a senior manager at EY, said the event highlighted the importance of training in ethical decision making. 

“Training in ethical reasoning and decision-making in tertiary institutions and business seems to be lacking. As the ex-CEO of GE [Mark Hutchinson] suggestedall training in business becomes irrelevant if you don’t know how to conduct yourself ethically and to engage in ethical decision-making,” said Dr Ogilvie.