Ethics and Leadership: An Executive’s Perspective; Stephan C. Barton '72

>> Monday, December 19, 2011

Steve with his father, J.T. Barton, Jr.;
taken in 1999
With the recent posting of the 2011-2012 J. T. Barton, Jr. Ethics Essay Competition rules and questions, we took the opportunity to interview its endower, member of the RIE advisory board and Cornerstone Member of the Rutland Ethics Alliance, Stephan Barton ’72.


Q.      What convinced you to be involved in some significant initiatives in ethics at Clemson University, now over ten years ago? 

A.      In late 1999, I had several conversations with my fraternity brother and Tiger track teammate, Jim Barker, about the "next big thing" that would impact our way of life, our economy, our school, and our thoughts.  We agreed that addressing ethical behavior in all parts of society, and teaching students, business people, educators, all types of leaders how to think ethically would be a key factor in making our country, our businesses, our government, our schools and individuals everywhere better. 

Q.      How and why did you decide to create an endowment to establish the J.T. Barton, Jr. Ethics Essay Competition?

A.      After my conversations with Jim and the development officer for AAH at that time, Jean Mercer, I determined that I could get the ball rolling myself in creating an ethics writing competition across our campus to focus on current ethical issues.  The initial goal was to heighten discussions among students and faculty concerning (1) how to determine right from wrong in everyday decision making, and (2) how to make "doing the right thing" an ingrained habit.  Initial funding for the Endowment and the Prize began in 2000, and it was named after my Dad, J.T. Barton, Jr. (CU-1950).  My Dad was an executive in the textile industry in SC for four decades, and during my college summers and Christmas vacations, he arranged for me to work in the finishing plant for 12-16 hours a day, where I not only developed my work ethic, but I learned from him how to manage a business ethically.  He was known for his fair treatment of employees, and for making the hard decisions within ethical parameters.  His employees loved and respected him greatly, because he was dependable, predictable, and trustworthy...he was a member of First Baptist from birth 'till death (74 years), worked for the same company for 41 years, and was married to one wife for 54 years. 

Q.      What advice would you give to Clemson students about ethical decision-making and building their personal brand as an ethical business professional or leader? 

A.      In today's economic environment, business professionals must earn a reputation for ethical behavior...it is no longer assumed.  The most critical component of a long-term business plan is to gain and maintain business with the highest ethical standards possible.  We all get ONLY one shot at integrity, and if we abuse that chance, we are forever stained in the eyes of the marketplace.  When your marketplace/clients trust in your motives, they respond personally, and they refer other business aggressively.  Integrity is the best advertising program in the world!

Q.      Is there a particular event or program targeted to business that you found enjoyable and rewarding to be a part of?

A.      I have taken great delight in watching the Rutland Institute for Ethics grow from an idea of Bob Rutland to an energized, organized, and difference making organization under Dan Wueste's careful guidance.  Other schools are now trying to mimic our "ethics across the curriculum" program and organizations are using our guidance to train their employees on ethical decisions and choices. I am amazed at the far-reaching influence of the institute today!


Q.        Do you have a call to action for readers?

A.        I own my own company, which provides comprehensive financial and estate planning and asset management to medical professionals across the southeast.  As a professional in the securities industry, I am stunned at the level of scandal, which has pervaded banks, securities firms, inside traders, and politicians.  The actions of these offenders have tainted our industry, and created an aura of distrust, which damages economic growth. Companies at every level MUST BE INVOLVED IN DEVELOPING THEIR OWN ETHICAL STANDARDS, AND IN HELPING TO RESTORE A GOOD MEASURE OF TRUST IN OUR BUSINESS ATMOSPHERE.  Our Rutland Ethics Alliance is the launch pad for businesses to begin this journey toward building trust, and becoming known for "doing the right thing".  Becoming and maintaining ethical actions in our relationships, business decisions, and thoughts is a journey and an everlasting process, not an event.  Partner with the Alliance to keep the path toward greatness in full view!   


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