What is the ultimate scarce asset for any corporation? Money? Gold? Human Capital? Petroleum?
Some, like Tarun Khanna, believe that the ultimate scarce asset is “being clean in a sea of corruption.” The idea is that all other resources can be bought or if one is lucky, it can fall into one’s lap. However, being clean – especially in an era of corporate corruption and ethical mudslides – is an individual and organizational choice. It requires someone (or many people in the case of an organization) to make the choice to work and conduct business a particular way. It requires organizations not to pay bribes or go about doing business in an unfair manner. This is easier said than done, since one mistake or one bribe can derail an entire organization.
This is a significant challenge in emerging economies. However, there is a strong commercial value to doing the right thing since a clean organization often draws much more business from outside investors and even from the general public. The problem is that if one is clean only for commercial reasons, eventually the temptation will probably prove too great. Clean organizations in corrupt economies often have great profits. Of course if profits were the only goal, then the organization most likely wouldn’t be very clean since they would most likely cut corners to achieve greater profits. Once they achieve these greater profits in the short-term, it would lead to less profits in the long run since investors and others would know they’re not a clean organization and would not be able to trust them.
So it seems that being a clean organization ethically is important to an organization’s profits, but they must have other values that are equal to the goal of profits for them to maintain being a clean organization. Organizations and individuals who make up the organizations need something more the mere goal of profits to continue and maintain their cleanliness. Again, this is not an easy thing to do for a business. It requires a strong conviction and actions beyond the conviction for the long-term. This is probably the very reason why Tarun Khanna is convinced that “being clean in a sea of corruption” may be the ultimate scarce asset. I wholeheartedly agree. Going further, perhaps one can argue that “being clean in a sea of corruption” may be a very important strategy in addition to being a scarce asset.