Corporate Think is not Rational Think

The current controversy swirling around whether Joe Paterno did the right thing is weighing heavily on my mind.

Recently, SCOTUS determined in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations must be treated like any natural person for First Amendment purposes, State law also typically granted corporation’s “legal person” status. This has profound implications in law as the wall between legal persons and natural persons are slowly being chipped away. But can a corporatios ever be a “natural person?”

I submit that no corporation can ever be a natural person for the simple reason that they are creatures of legal construct and, as such, have no inherent moral compass. If you ever examine how a corporation works this becomes abundantly clear. Rules and bylaws will always govern the corporation. The guardians of the corporation (its board of directors and the executives) will always meet as a committee in determining what is right for the corporation. They will be governed by not what is right, but what is right for the corporation in the context of that entity’s goals and corporate objectives. Not what is morally right.

How does this analysis (albeit simplified as it is) pertain to Joe Paterno and the current controversy swirling around Penn State football? Paterno is being taken to task for not having done the right thing with respect to his actions in 2002 when told that a trusted colleague was doing something horribly inappropriate to young children.

What Joe Paterno did was to advise the appropriate hierarchy within the Athletic Department at Penn State of the allegations. He did nothing more. The question is bluntly put, should Paterno, having satisfied his internal corporate obligations, taken that next step of alerting the police?

I’m not so sure.

If I may use an example from my own life. Sometime in the 1980s. I took a group of fellow employees down 100 floors of Two World Trade Center, when I saw smoke coming out of the elevator shaft. I simply said that I was not going to wait and started down the fire stairs, and a large group of employees joined me. For that action, I was severely reprimanded for having endangered the lives of my fellow employees with my reckless actions. I was read the rules of 2WTC which stated that only official emergency personnel could make a decision to walk down the stairs. We were supposed to wait for further instructions no matter how hot or smoky it got.

Did I do the right thing? I still think so to this day. Did I do the right “corporate” thing. According to my management — emphatically NO!!

I remembered that reprimand when the second tower, 1WTC, collapsed on September 11, 2001, and wondered how many people lost their lives because of that corporate rule. My fears were answered when I spoke with a friend who had offices above the floor in 1WTC that the second jet hit. To my horror, he said that his last (he was out of the office on that day) communication with his office was that his people had been told by WTC management to stay put and not attempt to leave the floor even though 2WTC was in flames. All his employees died, because once the second plane hit, there was no escape.

So what does this all have to do with Joe Paterno and CorporateThink?


1. CorporateThink is not rational think nor does it offer a moral compass.
2. Joe Paterno would have likely been told to not do anything else once he reported the allegation to the Athletic Director.
3. If Joe Paterno had taken the next step (the moral step, if you believe the critics), he would have likely been severely reprimanded, if not fired.

Just my two cents worth.

Phil Chen

By philc44

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