Integrity in Business: The Bedrock of Trust and Success

Business skyscrapers in reflection in La Defense financial district in Paris, France.
Integrity in business is the foundational pillar that fosters trust, builds lasting relationships, and determines genuine success in the professional world. (Image: Tetiana Zbrodko via Dreamstime)

Integrity stands as one of the most cherished virtues, timeless and universal. Regardless of the era — ancient or modern — or country or domain, this trait is ever-valued. An individual can have immense talents and skills, but if their moral fiber is questionable, no reputable organization would willingly employ them. As the adage goes: “Cleverness often outwits itself.” Those who often resort to cunning shortcuts eventually become the architects of their own downfall.

A lesson from Paris

Consider the story of a young man who went to France right after graduation to pursue a work-study program. Over time, he noticed that many local train stations were open with no ticket barriers, no inspectors, and rare random checks. Using his analytical skills, he calculated the probability of being caught without a ticket — a minuscule 0.003 percent. Proud of this discovery, he often traveled without a ticket, justifying his actions by his student budget and the thought of saving even a little money.

After four years, boasting a degree from a prestigious university and stellar academic achievements, he confidently approached various multinational companies in Paris, keen to showcase his abilities. However, the outcome was far from what he expected. While initially receiving warm welcomes, he was consistently turned down days later, leaving him puzzled.

View of Paris from the roof of the Notre Dame cathedral with a gargoyle in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Armed with a prestigious university degree and impressive academic achievements, he confidently approached several multinational companies in Paris. (Image: Alicja Ludwikowska via Dreamstime)

Seeking answers, he sent an earnest email to the HR manager of one of these companies, inquiring about their decision not to hire him. The same evening, he received a reply: “Mr. Chen, we truly appreciate your talents. However, upon reviewing your credit record, we were disappointed to discover your three incidents of fare evasion. This indicates two things to us:

  1. You don’t respect rules, finding and maliciously exploiting their loopholes.
  2. You can’t be trusted. Much of our work is built on trust. For instance, if you were tasked with market development in a region, we’d entrust you with significant responsibilities. Just like our public transport system, we can’t set up comprehensive surveillance systems to monitor each individual all the time. Therefore, we can’t hire you. To be precise, you might find it challenging to secure a position in not just this country, but across the entire EU.”

Only then did the gravity of his previous actions dawn on him, filling him with deep regret. Yet what resonated most was a quote included in the reply, reflecting the wisdom of Dante, the Italian poet from the Renaissance: “Morality can often compensate for a lack of intelligence, but intelligence can never fill the void of a lack of morality.”

Dante on the importance of integrity: 'Morality can often compensate for a lack of intelligence, but intelligence can never fill the void of a lack of morality.'
As Dante, the Italian Renaissance poet, once said: ‘Morality can often compensate for a lack of intelligence, but intelligence can never fill the void of a lack of morality.’ (Image: Vladimir Korostyshevskiy via Dreamstime)

Integrity, the simple wisdom of life

Life might seem complex, but its principles are straightforward. This sentiment echoes through the words of Sima Guang, a renowned historian from the Northern Song Dynasty, who wrote in Zizhi Tongjian: “Talent is the asset of morality, while morality is the leader of talent. Hence, someone with both in abundance is a sage and someone lacking both is a fool. Morality triumphing over talent denotes a gentleman, and talent overpowering morality signifies a petty individual.”

Many have fallen into the trap of overlooking the importance of integrity, often with profound repercussions. In a digital age where past actions are more accessible than ever, the adage “integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching” holds paramount importance. As we navigate life’s complexities, it’s crucial to remember that while our skills and knowledge contribute to our success, it’s our integrity that truly defines us.

In our journey through life, we must remember: While intelligence and talents are both valuable, without integrity, they mean very little.

Translated article

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