Business ethics speaker shares advice on leadership
The chairman of USAA, one of the nation’s leading insurance and financial services companies, has advice for today’s business students: behave yourself, because those who one day work for you will follow your lead. Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Moellering offered that wisdom and more on Tuesday for the 2011 “Ethics in Business” Speaker Series presented by the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business.
Speaking in the LaRose Digital Theatre, Moellering shared stories of his post-Army career, which included more than a decade with Lear Siegler Services Inc. of Annapolis, Md. He offered examples of ethical dilemmas he faced as a business leader, including what he described as nepotism that had poisoned the company culture prior to his arrival. Less than two months after he was named CEO, Moellering took action.
“We fired all of them,” Moellering said of the male relatives that he said had secured top management positions for themselves and, in some instances, for their mistresses. “Then we changed the locks on the front door and got a security guard 24/7. Someone keyed my car. I got death threats. But you know, it was the right thing to do.”
Moellering also offered observations on corporate malfeasance that rocked the American economy starting with the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s and ending with the nation’s real estate meltdown of recent years. He spared no criticism of the men who ran their companies into the ground - Enron, WorldCom, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, among others - and whose greed led Congress to impose new safeguards that, in their own way, stifle growth.
“If you analyze each of these cases, you find that most of it traces back to arrogance. Each of the principals was widely successful as a business leader and each began to think he was the smartest man in the room. He began to believe that you didn’t need to live by the conventional rules, that he was creating a new paradigm,” Moellering said. “Self confidence is a prime requirement of a good business leader, but self confidence carried too far becomes arrogance, and that spells trouble.”
Moellering called on business schools that haven’t already done so to reinforce ethics as part of their core curriculum. And he advised students in the room to be careful of their own actions as they climb the corporate ladder.
“People pay close attention to what those at the top are doing,” he said, “and they pay very close attention to what is rewarded and what its punished.”
In 2007, Moellering was named chairman of USAA, a Fortune 200 insurance and diversified financial services company, having served on the USAA board for 11 years. USAA is number 132 on the Fortune 500 list with $97 billion in assets.
During his more than 12 years with Lear Siegler Services Inc., Moellering helped the company expand from a field services business to a contract services company that provided numerous maintenance, flight training, systems integration and engineering services to government agencies and commercial customers worldwide, including a large operation in Europe.
In March 2002, Moellering formed JM Associates, a consulting business that includes management consulting, teaching and writing for publication. A 1959 graduate of West Point, Moellering holds a Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a graduate of the Stanford Business School Marketing Management Program for Senior Executives.
Moellering retired from the U.S. Army as a three-star general in 1987 with 28 years of service.
Key staff assignments included service as a White House Fellow on the White House staff; teaching on the engineering and history department faculties at West Point; executive to the Army Chief of Staff in the Pentagon; and finally, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Moellering has been active in many civic and charitable organizations. He is an adjunct faculty member of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, is a member of the board of directors of the National Defense Industrial Association, and was a founding member of the School of Business Administration Advisory Board of the Citadel.
He also serves on the boards of RTI International and the Thayer Leader Development Group of West Point. He is a frequent lecturer on leadership, business, ethics and the global war on terrorism. He and his wife have two sons and a daughter.
The event was co-sponsored by Beta Alpha Psi, the PRME initiative and the Love School of Business.