Emory Report
February 13, 2006
Volume 58, Number 19


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February 13, 2006
Perdue urges students to find moral compass

BY Alfred Charles

In an age in which some of the country’s biggest companies have been rocked by fraud and corporate malfeasance, Gov. Sonny Perdue urged Goizueta Business School students to be ethical leaders who build trust and inspire others.

You have to maintain your moral compass to keep it pointing due north,” he said Feb. 8 to an audience of about 60 people that included President Jim Wagner. “If you do, it will serve you well.”

The governor’s hour-long session was part of the business school’s ongoing series of speeches in which some of the state’s biggest movers and shakers share their lessons for success with tomorrow’s corporate leaders.

The corporate chiefs of The Home Depot, UPS, Cox Enterprises and Procter & Gamble have agreed to participate in the program. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15 and will feature Michael Eskew, the CEO of UPS.

Perdue said it was his first time visiting Goizueta. He began his talk by praising Wagner and his effort to bolster Emory’s reputation for academic and research excellence.

I’m a big fan of your president,” Perdue said.

But then the governor, who is up for reelection in the fall, launched into the central theme of his talk, which revolved around people doing the right thing in their professional lives.

He told the audience that they should ask themselves regularly, what is the right thing to do?

Your imbedded consciousness will be true to you if you are true to it,” he said, adding that, as future business leaders, the students will use spreadsheets and calculators when making decisions. “But a moral compass is your tool to make the right decision.”

The thrust of Perdue’s remarks were being made even as a jury in Houston was in its seventh day of a trial that is preoccupied with alleged wrongdoing by senior corporate executives who ran Enron.

The energy firm was forced to file for bankruptcy in December 2001 after it collapsed under the weight of accusations that included sham bookkeeping, inflated profits and insider trading.

Perdue, who mentioned the company by name, said the former Texas firm should serve as a lesson to those who look to use deception and trickery while trying to advance their careers.

As we’re seeing in courtrooms, unethical leadership is found out sooner or later,” the governor said.

His speech was delivered in a relaxed tone and spiced, at times, with humor. Perdue shared anecdotes with the students about character, honing a finely tuned moral sense and acquiring a reputation for honesty.

Your reputation for keeping your word is a valuable commodity,” he said.

The governor has completed many chapters in the story of his professional life. He is a veterinarian by trade and has served in the U.S. Air Force. Perdue had been a business owner and state legislator before claiming the governor’s mansion three years ago, becoming the first Republican to serve as the state’s chief executive in more than a century.

He said his most important lessons about how to govern came while raising his four children.

Parenting is leadership,” Perdue said.

Part of being an effective leader is listening to the disparate voices that make up Georgia’s population, the governor said.

I am not confined to a single channel of info,” Perdue said.

To illustrate the point, the governor said he routinely holds “Saturday with Sonny,” an event in which ordinary citizens get an audience with the governor at the state Capitol.

During a recent session, Perdue said a group of teachers from Griffin presented an idea in which educators can establish a bank of comp time to give to their colleagues who want days off from work to spend with a spouse who has returned home briefly while serving in war zones. (Last year a committee studying Emory’s employee benefits package recommended a similar idea for the University.)

The governor said his administration hopes to soon announce its support of the plan, which must still be endorsed by superintendents across Georgia, and perhaps state lawmakers.

After his remarks, Perdue took questions from the audience, including one comment from someone who thanked him for allowing Coretta Scott King to lie in state at the Capitol, the first woman and the first African-American woman granted such an honor.

It was a gut moral compass decision,” he said. “It was the right thing to do and an opportunity for Georgia to show our heart.”

For more information about the business school’s speaker’s program, visit: