By: Stephen Calandrino
The Busch School of Business and Economics began their Fall CEO Lecture series on Tuesday September 20th. In the past, speakers from retired General Stanley McCrystal to HonestTEA founder and CEO Seth Goldman have made appearances in this lecture series have given advice to students based on their own prior experience. This year, the first speaker was James T. Hackett, former CEO of the independent oil and natural gas exploration and production company Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and current partner at energy investment firm Riverstone Holdings LLC. Dean of the Busch School of Business and Economics Bill Bowman said that learned about Hackett after Hackett did an interview with Bloomberg.“Immediately, I reached out to him,” Bowman said, introducing Hackett to a packed Heritage Hall in the Father O’Connell building.
Sure enough, Hackett accepted the invitation. He began his speech by talking about his own journey. But it wasn’t his journey up the corporate latter, however. Rather, he began by discussing his own faith journey. He had grown up religious, and had always remained so privately. However, he said he himself was hesitant to discuss faith publicly during his college and early professional years. It wasn’t until he got his first position as CEO did he begin expressing his faith more openly. Instead of alienating others like he had feared earlier, he managed to use faith to express the core moral values to use as the foundation for the company. This, he claims, made it possible for the company to succeed.
Hackett noted the perceived irony of an oil executive talking about morality. In fact, he himself brought up Enron, the energy corporation that went bankrupt after years of misreporting earnings in 2001, as a cautionary tale of what happens when companies don’t follow moral values. He claimed that it was not that the people who ran Enron during its collapse were necessarily bad people. In fact, he knew several of them personally. However, he said that their failure was in the fact that they didn’t hold themselves to the same moral standard that he strived for his own company to have. However, he defended most corporations as moral.
“Good moral values are good business values” Hackett said.
This led him to his main piece of advice in the speech. Hackett said if he had to choose the trait that is most important in business, it would have to be integrity. While things like talent and resourcefulness were valuable, if someone lacks integrity, all of these points are moot when looking at a potential employee. He also gave the same advice when it came to working for someone who didn’t share the same moral values. He suggested if someone finds themselves in a situation like this, they challenge their employer on these issues and at a certain point know when to leave.
He wrapped things up with a quote from Thoreau.
“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,” Hackett said “This is to have succeeded.