Bill O’Rourke Teaches Integrity

“It starts with the decisions you make and the person you want to be.”

Luke Stevenson – Recently, former Alcoa Vice President, Bill O’Rourke was invited as a guest lecturer in one of our classes and gave a presentation about integrity in the business world. Mr. O’Rourke also served as chairman on the board of directors for Sustainable Pittsburgh. He was also the first president for Alcoa’s Russian operation, which not only improved the company, but also enabled him to improve safety. He credits his success to his leader, then CEO of Alcoa, Paul O’Neill. According to O’Rourke, O’Neil set the right culture for Alcoa, enabling him to succeed.

Mr. O’Rourke’s presentation was on how to be an ethical manager and an even better person. His emphasis was on integrity; he said the only way to be a great manager was to have integrity. It’s about being ethical and doing the right thing. This is the feeling in your heart that tells you if something is either right or wrong. Mr. O’Rourke shared with us some examples from his past work experience; for example, he stated that it’s easier to sometimes make the unethical decision, but it all comes down to your word and what you stand by. If you give someone your word, you are making a promise. If you cannot uphold that promise, or if you take the easy way out and think no one will find out, you’re wrong. This goes for the word/motto of companies. If companies go against their motto, who will trust them? After listening to Mr. O’Rourke’s stories, I was amazed at the difficult situations he was put in and how he acted when faced with these situations. No matter what the obstacle, he kept his integrity by doing what was ethically correct.

My biggest take-away from the class was the focus on doing what you believe is right. This sentiment is true for an individual and for a business. In the business world, ethical options can be overlooked because the unethical option may be quicker and/or cheaper. In the moment, this may seem to help the business grow or generate money. However, looking at the whole picture and choosing an ethical decision that aligns with the company’s values will pay off in the long run. In today’s world, it is hard to hide business decisions. A lot of businesses have failed because of getting greedy and thinking they won’t get caught by an unethical decision. Very few businesses can recover once they have broken their integrity.

As for me, I am just coming out of my undergraduate degree and do not have a lot of work experience under my belt. However, I know somewhere down the line I will be faced with a hard decision, one that will test my integrity. When that time comes, I will remember what I learned from Mr. O’Rourke’s presentation and make the ethical decision.