Strange things are happening in hotels these days. They are changing their names. It began in Toronto in June 2017, when workers descended on a 65-story luxury hotel and condominium and began yanking letters from the building’s facade. The letters spelled Trump International Hotel and Tower. They were soon replaced with St. Regis Hotel, and all reference to Trump
Donald Trump had never owned the hotel. He licensed his name to it when the word Trump carried a certain cachet among a segment of people willing to spend several hundred dollars per night for a place to sleep. Almost from the building’s opening date in 2012, few people were interested in staying there either overnight or as condo residents. For the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, actors and producers attending the major industry event declined to stay there. “Anywhere but Trump” became a common directive from the Hollywood set who had no problem with the hotel’s location, its staff, its amenities or anything else about the place—except its association with the man who a few weeks later became the forty-fifth president of the United States.
Word soon spread that Trump properties across America and elsewhere could expect to shed their identification with the man. In fact, a new line of hotels to be developed and managed by Ivanka Trump will be known as Scion, without her family name being revealed.* It’s all a matter of association. Too many people want nothing to do with Trump—not just with him directly, but even with his name and all that is linked with it.
Think of that for a moment: The name of the president of the United States has such poor prestige associated with it that few people agree to patronize a business connected with him. No one, including me, was overly surprised when Trump’s reputation spilled over to tarnish anything bearing his name. It simply proved the premise that the people at the top of any organization dictate the image, and ultimately the success, of the business according to the public’s perception of their values. In Trump’s case, the impact was more powerful thanks to his high profile along with many of his outrageous antics and comments. It’s clear that Donald Trump functions within his business organizations the same way he functions in the White House: he behaves as a ruler, not as a leader.
The difference between the two is significant. In many ways, it springs from the personal values of the person at the top, and the manner in which they treat those around them. As the following comparisons suggest, leaders demonstrate integrity and decency. Rulers exhibit neither.
> Leaders listen and speak. Rulers command and control.
> Leaders motivate. Rulers terrify.
> Leaders become involved. Rulers remain remote.
> Leaders correct. Rulers scold.
> Leaders teach and learn. Rulers expect and ignore.
How many of these qualities of rulers can be associated with businesspeople of high integrity? I’m not suggesting that bosses or managers who remain remote from their employees, scold and terrify their staff and insist on controlling every activity also engage in illegal or immoral activities. That’s a different metric where integrity is concerned. Clearly, however, it is difficult to visualize that kind of behavior from someone who maintains high moral values, respects everyone with whom he or she works, and serves as a model of integrity for others.
A leader’s trustworthiness is based on three key pillars: their ability; their benevolence and their integrity. The link between integrity and trust cannot be overestimated in a leader’s ability to inspire loyalty. Trust is associated with kindness and having good intentions rather than selfish motives.
I have worked with and closely observed many good leaders in business, and I’ll be the first to attest to the impact that they can make on an organization. I’m speaking not only of those leaders who aid their staff to achieve or exceed their goals, both private and corporate. The best leaders—those dedicated to integrity in all their actions and decency in all their relationships—go much further than that. Their influence is often subtle but powerful, especially on the wider objectives of the corporation.
For example, companies with effective and trusted leadership do not have to force or define their culture; it develops over time as a reflection of the values displayed by the leader. Everyone understands the vision and goals of the organization, knowing their input on applications and improvements will always be welcome. Promotions and rewards are made based on the most suitable abilities and experience. And the balance between everyone assisting coworkers to succeed, while performing at the best of their own ability in competition with others, is not seen as a contradiction but as a formula for collective success.
This may sound like some form of corporate utopia, a nirvana for HR executives and MBA scholars. But it’s not. Examples of values-based CEOs who achieved outstanding success for their companies are not just easy to find—they’re prominent in the business media.
I’m speaking of people like Apple CEO Tim Cook, who agreed to forfeit half of his annual compensation in 2013 if Apple failed to outperform other S&P 500 companies. The promise cost him $4 million in income that year. And Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote a book titled Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, in which he proposed that American businesses must serve the interests of all major stakeholders, from customers, employees and investors to suppliers and communities. Along the way, he says, they should also make every effort to protect the environment. Mackey claims he has followed this dictum since co-founding his firm thirty-five years ago—a company, by the way, that he sold to Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017.
Or consider this for proof: In 2015, the Harvard Business Review published a book titled Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, in which the author, Dr. Fred Kiel, collected data on eighty-four CEOs from their staff and salaried employees. He looked for confidential assessments of each CEO’s value system—fairness, honesty, openness and all the other qualities I’ve been talking about. Then he cross-referenced the long-term performance of each company whose CEO rated highly for values and integrity against those whose ratings were lower.
The results were dramatic. Kiel discovered that companies with the highest values and integrity rating scored annual returns averaging 9.4 percent while those in the lower third had a yield of just 1.9 percent. Let’s call the difference between those two figures an impressive dividend earned as a result of enlightened CEOs acting not just out of integrity, but also recognizing the large number of contributors to their company’s operations and success.
“You know the best thing about running things with a lot of integrity?” one highly admired CEO says. “It makes things easier. We don’t question ourselves, and nobody asks, ‘Should we, or shouldn’t we?’ There is no second-guessing and no hiding the truth, because it’s always out there to see. Life becomes simple, and you live and work in peace.”
And, I might add, if you and your reputation are associated with your business—say, a chain of hotels, for example—you might never have to deal with changing the company name.
Donald Sheppard, a retired entrepreneur and business executive, is the author of "The Dividends of Decency: How Values-Based Leadership Will Help Business Flourish in Trump’s America."