Oral Histories

Bill Margaritis

Interview Segments on Topic: Ethical Decisionmaking/Behavior

Bill Margaritis Biography

Bill Margaritis is the executive VP of corporpate affairs at Hilton Worldwide. Previously, he was corporate vice president for global communications and investor relations for FedEx Corporation.

Transcript

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned the idea of corporate culture and reputation being linked. I wanted to follow up on that by asking you to talk a little bit about the ethical considerations that you keep in mind when you’re thinking about communicating to the folks inside and to the external stakeholders.

MARGARITIS: Communicating inside and outside, I think you have to use the same principles and guidelines because the line of demarcation between a workplace and a marketplace is now blurred largely because of the Internet. So, what we send internally and how we communicate internally and how we inspire our folks internally, has to meet a litmus test of someone on the outside seeing that and making a judgment call on that.

INTERVIEWER: Ethical challenges. Have new media and social media changed the ethical challenges you face or exacerbated them or simply taken the same old ethical challenges and made them much more intense? Or are they different now?

MARGARITIS: Well, for FedEx, I don’t think social media has changed the ethical standards at all. Because we’ve always, I think, been incredibly ethical and buttoned up with respect to governance. I think what it has done is to make us much more alert to engaging and engaging very quickly. To speak up when there is some story out there or some rumor that’s not true; and defending ourselves. I do think though, it has had an impact on some companies that may have not had the standard of governance and ethics that they should have. Because now people can understand and know and research more about that company and apply pressure, in that regard. Where I see some of the challenges proliferating for corporate communications people is that the same standards of ethics and protocol that used to exist, and still exist in traditional media--let’s say like editorial quality--it’s kind of a mish-mash out there. There are some people who masquerade as journalists or bloggers on the Internet but in fact, they do not apply the same level of quality or fairness to their story telling. And they can quickly create communities based on rumors or misperceptions against you. We had one specific example. Let me share it with you. Someone called. It was one of these Internet journalists and they said, ‘we’re writing this story and we’d like your point of view on this story.’ Of course we took offense to the story. We did not think the facts were correct. So we gave them some facts and our statement. Well, the story runs and we’re nowhere to be found in the story. There’s an uprising in a certain part of the U.S. within this social community. Of course we’re unfairly represented. We’re feeling the pressure from this community. So you look at that situation and you say, ‘what happened?’ So we called the person up, and they had the gall and audacity to say, ‘Oh you know, I really didn’t think that your points really fit my story so I chose not to include the company’s statements in the story.’ Now, we eventually got over the hump and cleared our good name. It was not easy. But those are the kinds of things that happen. And I think people rush to get something out because they’re paid by the word or paragraphs or length of story. So I think quality has been degraded here in this new wild, wild, west. I think people rush to judgment. They’re too quick to hit the button without trying to find objectivity and fairness in what they’re saying. And I do think that it has had an amazing influence on the political space. I think one of the reasons we have gridlock now in Washington is because our politicians are more worried about the real-time sound bite and their constituencies and what they’re hearing on various, biased networks that are out there, rather than focusing on the business of America. Whereas in the old days, they would certainly do that, they would debate, they would certainly use the news media—at the time much smaller of course. But they had a lot more time to focus on consensus building and getting the job done. But now, if you’re consumed by the message of the minute or the show of the hour--whether it’s traditional broadcast or online--you’re not focusing enough on getting results and getting consensus. So they’ve become almost obsessed with the media machinery, as we know it today, and making sure they’re not missing a beat. I could be wrong. That’s just my point of view, I didn’t mean to get into that sort of political avenue here but it is a phenomenon of social media.

INTERVIEWER: And you did say earlier—that made a very good case that the two are related. Political and corporate culture.

MARGARITIS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: A lot of what you mentioned I think is—you could use the word ethics to think about some of the qualities and I guess my question for you is, a strong ethical compass—can that be taught or is that innate do you think?

MARGARITIS: I think a strong ethical compass goes back to your upbringing. I don’t know if it can be taught, and that’s just my personal view. I think it really is part of your value system. I think people can certainly make changes along the way. And those that do, I have seen use a tremendous amount of discipline to do that and to change. But it’s really, I believe, goes deep into the roots of your upbringing.

INTERVIEWER: So it makes that hiring decision even that much more important, right?

MARGARITIS: Yes, I think you have to dig deep in the interview process to really understand what makes a person’s moral compass tick.