Jack Welch isn't the only one good at applying the GE way to today's business problems. GE's former general counsel and senior vice president of public affairs wrote a book based on nearly twenty years of experience with the iconic organization.
Ben W. Heineman Jr., currently a senior fellow at Harvard Law School's Program on the Legal Profession and a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, offers his take on the challenges faced by the contemporary corporation in High Performance with High Integrity (Harvard Business Press, 2008). His purpose is to explain to executives why a fusion of high performance with high integrity is necessary not only to avoid the catastrophic impact of integrity lapses, but to sustain companies in today's "ruthlessly competitive environment."
While the book is directed to chief executive officers (it's part of the publisher's Memo to the CEO series), there's a lot here for CFOs as well. In a nutshell, Heineman covers five principles under which companies should operate:
Principle number five makes the strongest CFO connection by encouraging finance chiefs, along with the General Counsel, to be both the CEO's partner and the company's guardian. The author's experience at GE taught him that trying to strike a delicate balance between these two sometimes contradictory roles is often dicey and he draws on that experience to show others the way -- by paying attention to the "gray area" alternatives in difficult situations. "Most mixed business-integrity issues come cloaked in shades of gray," he writes. "The task of the CFO and the GC in such cases is to give the CEO options that -- while all are lawful, and are all based on clearly articulated assumptions about the facts -- entail varying degrees of legal, regulatory, ethical, and reputational risk. If more facts are needed, this has to be weighed against real-time pressures."
At a little less than 200 pages, this is a meaty but quick read.