We find ourselves in the midst of the most serious business crisis the country has seen in decades. Hardly a day goes by without some new revelation about yet another company being investigated by one arm of government or another. What started out as a scandal focused on Enron has mushroomed into an ethics epidemic enveloping some of America's blue-chip corporations. It is affecting major industries--telecom, accounting, software, Wall Street, and energy. And it shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
The stakes are enormous. The U.S. economic system depends on the accuracy of information. To make a high-growth, high-risk equity culture work, people must have honest financial data available to inform their decisions. What's at stake today is nothing less than popular trust in the markets. This trust must be restored.
Given the moment, it is disheartening to see so few CEOs speaking out for reform. Of course, no CEO wants to appear holier than thou. Yet even the voices of Corporate America-- the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce-- have been largely reticent. A few business leaders, such as Warren E. Buffett and Paul A. Volcker, have been outspoken. But generally speaking, the executive suite has been silent.
There are plenty of talented, articulate CEOs who run companies well and are compensated within reason. It would help at this critical time if they would take the public stage to urge reform in accounting, restraint in executive compensation, honesty in financial analysis, and integrity in corporate governance. The problem is increasingly urgent. Those who have embraced reform need to say so. Those who haven't need to do so.