James E. Copeland Jr., chief executive officer of Deloitte & Touche LLP and its global organization, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, sent business school graduates from Georgia State University's class of 2003 off to its future with a commencement address that focused on ethics and integrity, noting that the success of American business depends on how leaders demonstrate these qualities in their everyday actions and business decisions.
Copeland, a 1967 graduate of accounting studies from the university, told the gathering from the school's J. Mack Robinson College of Business, "Ethics and integrity boil down to an individual. We can't abdicate to policies, regulations or laws our personal responsibility for integrity and ethical behavior."
He highlighted recent business history to the graduates to show how an absence of integrity and ethical behavior by certain individuals created collateral damage that claimed thousands of jobs, robbed many of retirement savings, eroded billions of dollars in shareholder value and tarnished the reputations of many in the capital markets.
"When we experience consequences like these, suddenly ethical behavior doesn't seem academic, philosophical or irrelevant to our daily lives," he said. "That's when the subject of integrity and ethical behavior works its way to the top of our personal agenda. Integrity and ethics can't be a sometime thing. They have to be interwoven into the very fabric of our culture and our everyday lives."
Copeland called for all educational institutions - high schools, colleges and universities - to step up to the important role they can play in ethics education.
"Our schools can help prepare their students to face up to the ethical decisions that await them, not only in the business world, but in all of our society," he said.
Copeland will retire as CEO from Deloitte Touche Tohmastu and Deloitte & Touche effective May 31. He will reside in Duluth, Georgia, with his wife Patricia.