Honesty in the Spotlight – Looking at Valdez

The truth is that most people really are honest. They want to believe that they are doing the right thing for everyone involved in a given situation at any given time – and they want to be respected. Dishonest people aren’t respected in the business world. Most people actually want to be honest. Very few people wake up each morning and decide to lie their way through the day. Those who do lie do so out of a sense of necessity – as if not doing so will lead someone to believe they’ve been let down.

While most people want to be honest in business, it is true that earning yourself a bad reputation can be detrimental to your success. One terrible mishap could make a lot of people angry. They’ll begin to retaliate against you. They eventually let others know about your bad decisions and you lose business from others as well.

One example of a slightly dishonest and incredibly detrimental business decision is highlighted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. During the late 80’s, Exxon partnered with 7 other oil companies to convince Valdez to build a tanker terminal. They believed that the likelihood of an oil spill was very low but promised that if there ever was such an incident they would have the necessary cleanup equipment on site within mere hours.

On March 24, 1989, one of the oil tankers left Valdez, headed for California. The ship struck Bligh Reef and more than 10.8 million of the 54.1 million gallons of oil on the ship spilled into Prince William Sound.

And guess what? Exxon had fudged the numbers a bit and really didn’t have the equipment necessary to respond to such a disaster within “mere hours.”

Before long, more than 1,300 square miles of ocean was covered in oil. Sea otters, seabirds, salmon, and seals were covered in oil – most dying before they could be rescued. The actual cleanup cost around $300 million and after several court cases and appeals Exxon ended up paying more than $2.5 billion in punitive damages.

Exxon, believing an oil spill was highly unlikely, cut costs on cleanup equipment. They may have thought it the right thing to do at the time but they misrepresented themselves to the people of Valdez.

And they paid dearly, in both cost and reputation, for that mistake.

Is that the type of reputation you want to build for your organisation?

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 17 March, 2010

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