by Lauren Randazzo
During her lecture on March 26, Mary Kay Haben (’77), the Group Vice President and Managing Director for the North America sector of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, left her audience with a strong message to take with them that is applicable to the business world and beyond: leadership and ethics constitute reputation and there is nothing more important than how people perceive your character.
In today’s business world, CEO’s and other leaders are constantly being watched. “One must be accountable. When mistakes are made, it is important to act responsibly.” Haben believes, “A true leader should take responsibility for what happened, apologize and work hard to fix the problem.”
Haben, who is also a 27 year veteran of Kraft Foods, Inc., gave an example of a respectable response from a company faced with a serious crisis. Her former boss from Kraft Foods, Inc., who currently works for Mattel, responded to the very serious and dangerous problem of certain toy parts containing lead.
“He did what was right for the public good. He took responsibility for what had happened, apologized to consumers and ultimately Mattel’s stock rebounded” as a result of his transparent communication practices and strong leadership skills and ethics.
While Haben’s message prepared students for future careers in corporate America, she also cautioned students to the dangers of popular social networking websites such as Facebook or Myspace many use today.
“Behave impeccably. You are being watched. It will come back to haunt you ten to twelve years down the line” she warned.
Haben also encouraged students to find out if the companies they consider as employers share similar ethics and leadership attributes. “The company you choose is as important to your reputation as your reputation is to the company that hires you.”
Haben left her audience with final remarks reminding them that trust, dignity and respect are the keys to a healthy company and reputation.
“All companies today need to think beyond profit. They need to do more than just manufacture products. The ones that do the right thing win. It is one of the things that attracted to me to Wrigley and why I am proud to be a part of the company today.”
Mary Kay met her husband Edward when they were undergraduates at Illinois. Her son, Mike, is currently a junior in Finance.