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Sunday, December 13, 2015

What's your story about doing the right thing?



What's the last story you heard about someone doing what's right in business even when he or she had no obligation to do so?

Twenty years, on Dec. 11, 1995, Malden Mills, a textile company based in Lawrence, Mass., nearly burned to the ground. But as the fire was raging on, the company's CEO, Aaron Feuerstein, announced that he would continue to pay all of his out-of-work employees as he tried to get his company up and running.

By going beyond his ethical obligations to his employees Feuerstein was heralded as a hero.

Six years after the fire, I wrote about Feuerstein after his company had been rebuilt. In November 2001, the company faced a new challenge. The company had run short of cash and was forced to file for bankruptcy. At the time, Malden Mills' customers -- including L.L. Bean, Patagonia, and North Face that used its Polartec fabric in their high-end clothing -- stuck with the company. And Feuerstein asked consumers to make the "Polartec Promise" and buy products using Polartec fleece rather than garments made with fleece made in countries with lower labor costs.

The question I asked at the time was whether consumers should feel ethically obligated to buy his goods because of Feuerstein's past good deeds. I concluded then and still believe that consumers had no such obligation, but I planned to purchase a blanket made of Polartec fleece for my then six-month-old grandson, just I had done for his older brother.

Feurstein turned 90 on Dec. 9. He and his family who owned the company for three generations couldn't hold on to the company after the bankruptcy. The manufacturing site that burned 20 years ago is now run by an unrelated company. Some of the buildings in Lawrence that once produced Polartec fleece have been converted to apartments.

But, as Joan Vennochi wrote in The BostonGlobe in late November, "Feuerstein is at peace with the outcome." He told her that he received credit "because most American corporations had forgotten that the worker is part of the enterprise." He said that he "essentially got credit for doing the right thing."

Now, it's time for you to tell me your story. When was the last time you witnessed someone doing the right thing in business even when it wasn't required? Provide names, dates, and as many details as possible and send your stories to me in 300 words or less.

I will try to use some of the most compelling examples in an upcoming column. If you submit your story by Jan. 12, 2016, and I use yours and you allow me to include your name along with your story in that column, I'll send you a copy of my book, The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, after it is published on January 12.

Include your name, email address, a phone number where you can be reached, and submit your stories to rightthing@comcast.net, or mail them to me at: Jeffrey Seglin, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's KennedySchool. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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