From left to right: Roberts, Illy, Martin, and Pfeifer

From left to right: Roberts, Illy, Martin, and Pfeifer

The seventh annual Global Ethics Summit kicked off this morning in New York with a keynote conversation involving a diverse set of CEOs. Tom Pfeifer, senior vice president of sales for Thomson Reuters, moderated a panel discussion with James Roberts, president and CEO of Granite Construction; Andrea Illy, chairman and CEO of illycaffe’; and Rodney Martin, Jr., chairman and CEO of Voya Financial.

Despite the diverse business sectors each panelists represented, the value of ethical business practices in the face of today’s complex business environment was unanimous.

Martin shared how his firm navigated its divestiture from ING at the peak of the recent financial crisis. In spite of this complexity, he reflected on the one key business metric he is asked about the most: “Don’t tell me about the business dynamics, tell me about the culture.”

For Martin, building a culture of value means leading by example. But as Illy described, culture itself is a value that can drive the future of business.

“We need to build a new society around a completely different paradigm,” challenged Illy. “But this is a business opportunity.”

He went on to note that from sustainability to building trust around the globe, corporations can lead the charge. It’s about “saying what you do and doing what you say,” he Illy.

The panelists agreed that businesses need to take a critical look at their culture to initiate and drive change.

“When you think about company culture, you think about where your company is headed and looking at behaviors that offset risk,” Roberts noted.

Referring to Isaacson’s keynote last night, and the ethical potential that lies at the intersection of humans and technology, Pfeifer took the concept further by asking panelists about the intersection of personal and professional values.

Illy shared how the success of his company — which is now under its third generation of family leadership — is driven by the his family’s passion and how it permeates every level of the business.

“We have to work for the future generation,” Illy shared. “Profit is a means, not an end.”

The notion of bringing passion to business was echoed by the other panelists.

“Don’t come to work for the paycheck…if you don’t enjoy [the work], you shouldn’t he here,” Roberts added bluntly.

Pfeifer then asked how communication inspires ethical business practices. For Roberts, the key was simple: “Communicate, communicate and over communicate; never believe that your message has been received.”