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Q & A : When the Bottom Line Is Personal Honor : Author Backs Coexistence of Business, Ethics

October 09, 1994|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Rabbi Wayne Dosick must have struck a chord with his book "The Business Bible: Ten New Commandments for Creating an Ethical Workplace" (William Morrow & Co.). It sold out its 15,000-copy hardcover run last year and has just been released in paperback by HarperBusiness.

Using contemporary examples and ancient parables, Dosick, 47, structured his book around 10 chapters on 10 ethical commandments. Among them: Honesty is the best management policy, whether dealing with employees or customers. And: Managers have a responsibility to treat employees and customers as they would prefer to be treated.

Dosick, who lives in La Costa, Calif., is an adjunct professor of Jewish studies at the University of San Diego.

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Q: Why is a book linking business and ethics timely?

A: There's an upheaval going on. The "Me Decade" of the '70s and the "Greed Is Good" decade of the '80s led to all these excesses--the Wall Street scandals, the S&L failures. Suddenly, business leaders are beginning to talk about business in an entirely new way as "a trust" and "a calling" and "a covenant" and as "love."

I said to myself, I have a unique perspective to offer this discussion. These guys come from, if you will, the failure of the business world to live up to good ethical standards, and they are calling the business world to task for that. I come from the perspective of bringing the ethical standards to the business world. Not just Judaism, but all the spiritual traditions have something to say about how we live decently in our everyday lives.

The Bible and Talmud are not just holy books out there for sacred moments, but nitty-gritty books teaching how we are to behave with each other in everyday relationships and which over and over again talk about issues of commerce and business.

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Q: So your book is a compendium of business lessons to be drawn from holy texts?

A: After I started writing, I looked around and knew I needed real-life examples, that I couldn't talk on an esoteric plane as if I'd gotten the word off the mountain and you guys better listen. I knew I'd need to find companies that do this kind of stuff.

So I went looking for businesses that do it right--that do well by doing good--and I found some. Tom's of Maine, the toothpaste maker, and Ben and Jerry's ice cream people are well known for sharing their profits and for social consciousness.

Then I ran into this company called Fel-Pro, an automotive gasket manufacturer in Skokie, Ill., whose managers were invited to the White House for Clinton's signing of the family leave bill. Fel-Pro has been giving family leave for the past 12 years. They have on-site legal and psychological counseling, summer camps and scholarships for employees' kids. I asked around and it turned out, by sheer coincidence and luck, that Fel-Pro's co-chairman, Lewis Weinberg, has a retirement house in Ramona (a San Diego suburb).

So I got introduced to and had dinner with him and I asked Mr. Weinberg: "How can you do all this?" He looked at me and said, "How can we not do it? For 54 straight years, we have had increasing profit, and there is only one reason: We take care of our employees and our employees take care of us."

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Q: One of your main themes is the value of treating employees and customers humanely.

A: Ethics go across the board--internally with employees, externally with consumers. When I did book signings and people would pass me by, I'd call them over, and they'd say, "I'm retired, I don't need a book on business ethics." But every one of us is involved in business if we do nothing more than buy a 29-cent stamp or a tube of toothpaste.

I've been collecting business stories--the good, the bad and the ugly of how people behave out there. You probably have your own litany. If you just recorded how you were treated in various business settings in the course of one week, you'd be blown away at how poorly you're treated, and we don't really give it much thought.

But then you jump hoops and get happy when you're treated well. That's why there will always be a place for Nordstrom, no matter what Wal-Mart does to a downtown shopping district. When you think of Nordstrom, you think of quality and service, not that the prices are high. The bottom line is that we'll go back again and again to a place where we're treated well, and we'll stay away from places where we are not treated well.

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Q: You quote the prophet Micah to define a true business leader as someone who "does justly, loves mercy and walks humbly." What did you mean?

A: Those are the exact three qualities that a good leader has to have. In the Israeli army, the generals are at the head of the line and they say, "Follow me." They're not sitting in some bunker saying, "Charge!"

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