RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — How important did some CEOs consider Hugh McColl’s “Forum for Corporate Conscience” over the weekend?

Some 120 corporate suits, authors, guest speakers and media types skipped the ACC basketball tournament – or other college tournaments going around the country as “March Madness” begins – to attend the event in Charlotte.

McColl, the former head of Bank America, put together the event in the wake of the 2002 corporate scandals and other events. The intent of McColl and others named to the board of directors was to raise the level of awareness in the executive suite about what’s wrong in corporate culture today.

Based on media reports, many of the execs left fired up by what they heard.

In a “white paper,” the CEOs adopted what you almost could call a declaration of “taking more responsibility.”

“We as business leaders share these aspirations for the sustainability, responsibility and values of our corporations and the world,” the statement begins.

Not quite “Gettysburg Address” in opening, but interesting, to say the least.

The executives then spell out priorities and focus in Economics, Leadership, Justice, Environment, Community and Family.

Some examples:

Executive compensation: “We challenge corporations to — establish meaningful holding periods for top executives’ stock, grants and stock obtained by exercising options — require top executives to hold a substantial amount of company stock — base top executives’ compensation on specific short- and long-term performance benchmarks, both financial and non-financial.”

Leadership: “We commit to demonstrate that sustainability maximizes shareholder value and can only be achieved with a long-term focus — We believe that a short-term focus on earnings does not support sustainability — Corporate sustainability can only be implemented through an organization-wide commitment.

Justice: Corporations must “promote social justice” through internal practices, philanthropy, government interaction and “engagement with multi-stakeholder organizations.” Why? The paper states the “alarming and shameful number of disadvantaged children in America and around the world jeopardizes the sustainability of our social and economic systems.”

Environment: The paper says corporate leaders must be aware of “environmental degradation, including global warming” and said they will “act responsibly by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.”

Community: CEOs and corporations need to be more involved in education and notes “we cannot tolerate the dual system (affluent versus poor) in the United States.” More good teachers are needed, too. “In the long term, we challenge our corporations and each individual CEO to lead the charge in (1) elevating the value of the teaching profession, (2) creating a sustainable education environment, and (3) changing the financial structure of education to eliminate the dual system.”

Family: Human resource management is important, too. “Every CEO will personally review existing HR policies and practices to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement.” Over the next 12 months, the attendees pledged to conduct employee surveys “to determine ways our employees believe we can improve their work and family lives” while also conducting best practices surveys in their respective industries and then compare the two to determine how “to improve our practices and policies.”

And as America prepares to go to war, the paper closes with a recommendation about the troops: “Given the number of troops that have been called to active duty we will do our utmost to make up any difference in pay and benefits to all military employees and identify and implement ways that their families can be supported.”

Not just about “me”

Before the event, McColl stated that CEOs must step up and make changes if corporate America is to regain the confidence of the public.

“The bottom has dropped out of this confidence not because of poor products or shoddy service but because of a crisis of leadership, a failure of leadership, a ‘conspiracy of silence’ that raised its head through the years on issues like air and water pollution, clear-cutting, and many more,” he wrote.

He decried the “lunacy” of short-term thinking and the “madness” of executive compensation.

“”Being CEO is not always a comfortable occupation, nor is it meant to be. Real leadership requires talking an unpopular stance and sticking with it because it is the right thing to do. Failure to stand for what is right is to fail at the very definition of ‘leader’: to show the way by going in advance.”

Author Tom Wolfe nailed the executive suite attitude for abuse in his remarks at a lunch on Sunday:

“You see this whole joint? It’s me.”

To read the entire white paper, visit:

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.