Oral Histories

Roger Bolton

Interview Segments on Topic: Code of Ethics/Mission Statement/Credo

Roger Bolton Biography

Bolton, senior counselor to APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs and corporate communications consultancy, began his career as a journalist before serving as a press secretary for a member of Congress.  Bolton became director of speechwriting for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign, and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and public liaison under President Bush in 1989.

As senior vice president of communications for Aetna, Bolton led a group of senior Aetna executives to think about culture and organizational effectiveness, which resulted in the creation of the Aetna Way, with integrity as its first fundamental value.  Roger Bolton is past president of the Arthur W. Page Society and current chair of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.


Interviewer: Ethics is a very big subject these days in the corporate world. Does Aetna have an ethics program for its employees or do you have one for your department or how is the company view the whole subject of ethics and the importance of it across to the employees and others whoa are associated with it.

Bolton: We do that Jack. We have integrity as one of our basic values. I mentioned the Aetna Way. There are four fundamental values and integrity is one of the four. It’s the first one by the way. It’s the one we always mention first and we do have corporate ethics program. We have a required annual certification that each employee has to take. You have to read the code of ethics.  You have to engage in some online sort of learning episodes where you have to understand how to apply the code in practice.  You have to take the test basically and you have to certify on an annual basis. We also have conversations about it and we make it a critical point of discussion.

Interviewer: You mentioned your experience at Aetna with the creation of yet a way which has obviously been a very effective thing for that corporation. I was wondering if there are other things that have occurred to you as you’ve seen it work effectively at the Page Society or other groups could be instrumental in helping to establish like a training in ethics per se or other things that you have helped corporations function better particularly American corporations known throughout the world not only for their innovativeness but their productivity being but for being just great ethical operating companies you want to do business with. You are in sort of [inaudible] you know far better than I do. But you know the current situation is that. Are there things you think you could do to help American businesses to improve their “ethical reputations” besides the building trust activity. It’s a kind of rooted question.

Bolton: Well you know again I think that’s what we’re searching for and I appreciate your reference to the Aetna Way. Because I think that the Aetna Way, the J & J credo others like it really are something that can distinguish corporations and make them become more trustworthy. Not because they have them and they put them up on the wall and that should somehow be admired. But because if they’re done correctly, they can actually change the way you operate. And if they do that, and leave you to be institutions that are not only dedicated to ethics and integrity but also dedicated to understanding the needs and relating to the needs of public constituencies. Then that’s it’s sort of who you really are as opposed to what you say that is critically important and if a credo or a set of values can make you fundamentally operate that way, then that’s how you earn trust. It’s day by day in the marketplace in the way you conduct your business with a compass and set of ethics.

Interviewer: I want to pick up on a phrase that you used in the answer which was and I’ve heard you talk about this recently. When you said they can be effective if they are done correctly. What is that?

Bolton: Well it means just that that they more than just up on the wall. I think Enron had a sort of widely known that they had a set of ethics or corporate principles in one sort or another that weren’t really part of the fabric of the way the company operates. It has to be something that is truly embraced by senior leadership. Not only talked about by senior leadership but lived by senior leadership. And it also has to be something that is embraced up and down the company. And if I may let me just tell you a little bit about our experience at Aetna when we introduced the Aetna Way there was such a hunger for it. People wanted it so badly that without us even mounting a campaign. We did put up some graphics on the internet site that this is what it looks like so people can. People were printing those out and putting them up in their cubicles. People were having posters made and putting them up in the service centers. People had mouse pads made. And it became just something that became a rallying point for us up and down the company. Jack Rowe and Ron Williams are two senior executives haven’t given us internal speech in the last five years where they didn’t show it on a slide and talk about it. And we’ve woven it into our training so that we give people training courses on how what the Aetna values and the Aetna Way really means. How to incorporate the understanding of it into your daily operations so that you are actually thinking about it. And I’ve been really gratified to see us in the middle of very difficult business meetings someone will make reference to it. And say the problem here is we don’t have a focus on the people who use our services who we put at the center of everything we do. And so the references to it come out in the course of doing our business. It’s become part of the fabric of who we are. And it really requires that kind of dedication to it and belief in it and I think J & J has a long much longer history than we do of having that kind of focus on it that makes it makes it real.

Interviewer: Have you ever had situations where the bottom line and making an ethical decision came into conflict with one another? Any come to mind maybe not but maybe they have or doing the right thing or something that ultimately wasn’t done.

Bolton: When doing the right thing was not done?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Bolton: Well I don’t I don’t know that I want to give an example of that but let me give an example of the opposite. We were in a meeting not too long ago at Aetna and we were talking about some of our policies or on medical management some of the things we pay for and one of them was mammograms. And someone was saying well these pay for themselves because you do the mammograms and you save not only lives but you also save medical costs. And the chief medical officer said well actually no. They don’t pay for themselves. They are more expensive than the costs that we save. And somebody said well why do we do them. And the answer was because it’s the right thing to do. And that is why we do it. And we do do it. And so there are ethical corporations. There are people who make decisions based on doing the right thing and it isn’t always about the bottom line.