Posted by Jack Brymer on 2010-10-05

The recent waves of corporate scandals have eroded the trust and goodwill of employees, investors and the public, and there is probably more to come, according to Sylvia Young, president and Chief Operating Officer (CEO) of Sunrise Health Systems in Las Vegas, Nevada and 1983 Samford alumnae.

Addressing students on the subject “Leading an Ethical Company in Challenging Times,” Young spoke during Omicron Delta Kappa’s Leadership Convocation Thursday morning. She warned that other examples of “corporate greed” may be forthcoming.  “Increased connectivity now makes it possible to more easily access sensitive company data, allowing for greater transparency than ever before,” she said.

Citing a litany of companies hit by financial scandal during the last decade, including her own company, the former Columbia/HCA which paid a $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines for Medicare fraud and led to the resignation of its own CEO in 1997, Young said the company, now HCA, started with leadership in turning around its scandal-ridden reputation.

“It starts with leadership,” she said. “All great leaders make decisions based on what’s right.”  Such decision-making, Young suggested, sounds a lot like what Jesus taught about having mercy, being humble and meek. “Christian values you received at home, in your churches and at Samford are applicable in the business world also,” Young told the students.

“The role of leadership in business is indisputable,” she said. “Great leaders create great businesses.” She cited HCA, which has evolved from paying fines to being one of the most ethical companies in the world, as an example of the importance of leadership.

Young also suggested that leaders should be motivated by a broader purpose than money. “Rather than concentrating exclusively on having a shareholder approach, develop a stakeholder-driven approach,” she said. “Stakeholders are those who associate with you to give back, enjoy participating in the work you do, and get pride from associating with you.”

Young cited Brazilian Ricardo Semler as an example of good leadership, quoting him as saying: “No one ever thinks they have enough power or resources to change things…you can influence more than you think you can. The real question is what YOU want to do.”

Acknowledging that the world had changed significantly since she was graduated 25 years ago, Young encouraged the students to develop a personal passion for what they want to do.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.