Turns out Arnold Schwarzenegger, Milton Friedman and me have something in common, not only with one another but with Jeff Immelt, Lee Scott, SEC chair Chris Cox and Al Gore. We are among the â€œ100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics (2007)â€, according to Ethisphere magazine, which calls itself â€œessential reading for Directors, CEOs, GCs and Compliance Officers who see opportunities in ethical leadership.â€ For the record, I placed No. 86 on the list, right behind Wang Shouyeâ€™s mistress, who turned in the vice admiral in the Chinese navy and member of parliament accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes.
I might be impressed with myself for making this list were I not intimately familiar with the all-too-subjective process of magazine list-making. Magazines LOVE lists. U.S. News has the top 100 high schools (high schools!), Runnerâ€™s World has â€œ52 WAYS TO SPEED UP, SLIM DOWN AND RUN STRONGâ€ and a recent issue of FORTUNE (my favorite mag) listed the 25 most powerful people in business. No. 1? Steve Jobs.
This is mostly harmless fun, until people start trying to game the lists. The fact that colleges jockey for position on U.S. Newsâ€™ influential list by, for instance, trying to attract more applicants soley to appear more selective is understandable but nevertheless an indictment of the business of higher education. My FORTUNE colleague Pattie Sellers gets lobbied like crazy every year before she puts together her â€œMost Powerful Womenâ€ in business list. One would wish that PR people for the women seeking a place on the list would have better things to do. Iâ€™ve never been persuaded by any of the efforts to rank the most responsible companies or best corporate citizens. How can you compare Green Mountain Coffee to IBM or Timberland?
Had I been tempted to swell with pride over my ranking on the Ethisphere list, it would have lasted only until the following email came in from my brother Noel after I informed him of the honor. He wrote:
This is a great start but I think there’s still room to grow. You’re just one notch below Wang Shouyeâ€™s mistress, but she already turned him in.
And I think you can overtake Milton Friedman (#32) too, now that he’s dead. So I have you penciled in at #84 for next year.
You can always count on family members to tell it like it is.