Bettina Bastian: What I know about having business ethics as an entrepreneur

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A serial entrepreneur, German Dr. Bettina Basitan, has been interested in entrepreneurship and innovation since her college years and has researched it ever since.

In 2003, while studying for her PhD in Strategic Management at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), she cofounded two startups, Bluetree Finance in finance and Altaswiss in real estate. Ten years later, she cofounded the Journal of Advanced Research on Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation.  

In 2013, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut, responsible for entrepreneurship and business ethics courses, Dr. Bastian co-started with Kimberly Samaha, CEO of Synthesis Venture Fund Partners and Born Global LLC, the Beirut Ethics Colloquium, that brought together multidisciplinary participants on a weekly basis to learn and to discuss ‘ethics’.   

Wamda had the chance to talk to Bastian about the rising topic of ethical concerns in entrepreneurship. Here’s what she said.

Entrepreneurs have similar ethical responsibilities as big companies. When people think about ethics, they often think about big companies. However, startups, like many other companies, also have to make ethical decisions, some of which are managerial, while others are financial or even related to R&D.

Don’t compromise on ethics. By definition, being ethical is trying to find processes and norms to well behave. Even though you may face a lot of financial and time constraints as an entrepreneur, you will be put in circumstances where you have to react and behave ethically. For example, while some companies may have unlimited access to their users data, they must handle them ethically to avoid any privacy breach. If you are a manufacturer, and you have doubts about any of your product’s quality, will you just reveal that, or hide it away to sell your product? If you are dealing with investors and have any occurring problems, will you be honest with them?  

Let your products impact people's lives positively. Entrepreneurs bring something completely new, they might even reinvent how we do things and change people’s lifestyle. Therefore, you as an entrepreneur, cannot only focus on profits, as you might risk overpassing important ethical aspects. You must rather look to create value and focus on the quality of what you are offering.

Be aware of who you are, what is important to you and don’t lower your standards. Make a plan of what is important to you because your values will flow into the company you build. Hence, you need to know who you really are, what values do you have. If you don’t define your values, it is the surrounding environment that will impose them to you. Be aware that there might be negative ones, or ones that do not echo your identity if ever the surrounding ecosystem is a corrupted one. Therefore, let your values guide you through tricky situations where the surrounding environment might drag you into negativity.

Write a code of ethics. Make your values clear to your cofounders and your team. This will also help you anticipate certain situations that might cause ethical dilemmas and get you ready to deal with them. The code of ethics will also guide your employees and team members through these challenging situations, where even people with good deeds might end up facing unethical incidents. However, once you state your company values, people will behave accordingly.  

Being ethical will not hold you back. Don’t think that being unethical could be a solution to grow big. In the contrary, it will backfire at you. If you misconduct once, you will continuously do it, and that’s a slippery slope. On the other hand, if you have integrity, people will trust you more whether they are customers or investors.

Feature image: Bettina Bastian (image via Bettina Bastian).

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