To promote ethical business conduct, and recognize commitment to fight against corruption, Telenor launched its Ethical Company Award last year. We talked with Christopher Laska, CEO of Telenor Magyarország Zrt. about the differences between Hungary and Scandinavian countries, about the award and the role of Transparency International.
Q: Why did you decide to establish your Ethical Company Award?
A: Let me start by explaining why we decided to talk about anti-corruption publically in the first place. All Telenor Group companies operate according to the same ethical and fair principles throughout the world. It is a great challenge to keep the same standards regardless of circumstances. We are aware of the enormous cultural differences from Norway to Pakistan or Bangladesh, both in society and business. I know the economic environment does not always favor such values, however we should not surrender to ethical relativism.
There are many areas of corruption threats, and it was a revelatory study I read by Transparency International last year that showed to what extent the Hungarian business sector was affected. We believe that it will only change if there are companies willing to prove that there is another way, a better way. Telenor, as a large Hungarian company, has a responsibility and an agenda to do so. There are other companies as well that refuse all kinds of ethical misconduct, fortunately, and by establishing the Telenor Ethical Company Award we want to encourage them further.
Q: What business ethics could you teach or transfer to Hungarian businesses from Norway?
A: It is quite characteristic in Norway, and in fact in all Scandinavian countries, that values like fairness, respect and diversity have become part of the national culture, and hugely determine individual decisions. People don’t try to avoid their taxes and it is simply not ‘cool’ to cheat. We want to share with our partners and entrepreneurs that it is possible to run a business fairly.
But it is not enough to operate ethically within Telenor. We have to make a step forward, talk about these issues, educate both our partners and the general public, and try to make an impression on other companies as well. One could say that we are very straightforward in a Scandinavian way: we don’t handle ethical issues as taboo, and we are not afraid to make a stand on these issues.
Q: How far are Hungarian and Norwegian business ethics from each other?
A: Our partner Transparency International issues regular Corruption Perception Index data. Norway is a leading country in this regard, whereas Hungary has some room for improvement. Scandinavian countries are in the top seven, Hungary ranks number 46 according to the 2012 research. As a Hungarian company, we are dealing with hundreds of business partners in Hungary, and have a clear view of local business culture. We know that corruption creates an unfair business environment that decreases effectiveness, productivity, development and healthy competition for entire sectors. It is not only dangerous for individual companies but for the whole country as well. We have great hopes that, together with our partners, we will achieve a real change in our business environment.
Q: Do you expect any improvement in Hungarian business ethics due to the award and your efforts?
A: It is difficult to change our business environment radically and fast, but we believe that open communication, transparency and good examples do work. Corruption creates an insecure business environment, and unfair competition that hinders companies from concentrating on quality. Fortunately, several companies have realized by now that they can only be successful in the long-term if they are ethical. I hope that many more will follow our lead because this is the only way to create a corruption free business environment and a competitive Hungary.
Q: What kind of experience and help does TI Hungary offer you?
A: Transparency International is one of the best-known organizations fighting against corruption globally; its reputation is based on its vast professional experience and independent functioning. We received invaluable professional help from them when we established our free e-learning anti-corruption material called ‘SME Courage’, and they also play an important part in the jury process of Telenor Ethical Company Award.
Q: There is already a Business Ethics Award in Hungary; indeed, Telenor won it some years ago. What is the difference between the two awards?
A: We are very pleased that this issue is becoming widely raised and accepted and we would only encourage any company or organization to contribute with their own efforts to improve business ethics. We appreciate that another institution has a long standing dedication towards ethical conduct. Their award is about general conduct, ours has a somewhat different approach: we acknowledge specific corporate programs that focus on ethical values, decrease corruption risks, or increase corporate integrity and that have actually been implemented. We rely on a jury completely independent of Telenor, all entries are double-checked by Transparency International to make sure that applicants are not involved in current proceedings or have not been charged by the Competition Authority.
Christopher Laska graduated from Bradford University Management Center in 1995. He joined Telenor as a project director in 2000. After various positions, he became CEO of Telenor Magyarország in 2011.