Monday, April 4, 2016

Ethics on an Etch-a-Sketch

There's a short list of technology companies whose products I will never buy.

This isn't a "Buy American" rant, but it has plenty to do with how tech companies manage -- or mismanage -- their reputations.

I don't buy Hewlett Packard products. Partly for the shoddy treatment bestowed on former EDS workers (with whom I'm personally acquainted) acquired when H/P bought the company. Partly because H/P's board of trustees engaged in spying on employees and each other. Partly because an H/P CEO was dismissed in 2011 for "fudging expense reports" -- corporate-codetalk for using company funds on an inappropriate relationship.

By Etcha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
or GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
None of these events means H/P makes poor technology products. To me, however, it's indicative of a company that applies its profits irresponsibly. And I don't want dime one spent in support of a company whose ethics are written on an Etch-a-Sketch.

Similarly, electronics maker Toshiba never appears on my list of preferred brands. This week, the company's eroding fortunes have forced it to sell its medical imaging business to rival Canon -- a direct fallout of its 2015 scandal, when Toshiba's leadership was accused of manipulating its books, and its CEO resigned.

Toshiba is a serial offender. As far back as the 1980s, the company engaged in duplicitous behavior, illegally selling U.S. technology to the Soviet Union.

You can often buy Toshiba's laptops and gadgets at discounts from U.S. retailers, but I'm prepared to spend a few dollars more for comparable products that don't come with a veil of scandal. And I have abundant choices.

From a public relations perspective: this has everything to do with reputation management. An unblemished reputation won't compel me to buy your product all buy itself. But it will earn you a spot on my short list of manufacturers. Which neither H/P or Toshiba now hold.

Each could behave more ethically, and tell us about their steps to mend their ways. And each has yet to convince us they're able to change their behaviors.

I'm willing to buy from companies that behave ethically, and live up to a set of values that aren't written on an Etch-a-Sketch.

(Note: this post does not reflect upon any current candidate for national office. Although checking the ethical track records of these candidates might be in the best interest of every reader.)