by Jerry Gregoire and Robert Urwiler

Point, Counterpoint: Are Customer References Ethical?

Feb 01, 20041 min

Ethics (or the lack of it) in corporate America has become a daily drumbeat in the news. Financial giants such as Citigroup and Merrill Lynch are being investigated for helping Enron (and now Parmalat) assemble their pyramid schemes. Mutual fund companies are being investigated for market timing practices. Business journalists are increasingly alert to the relationships Wall Street analysts have with the companies they rate. But the quid pro quo of customer references, wherein technology vendors provide discounts and preferential treatment to CIOs in return for good reviews, remains a flourishing practice.

Is this wise? Are there ways to get special consideration without crossing ethical boundaries?

Robert Urwiler, CIO of software company Macromedia, maintains that customer reference arrangements can be beneficial to all parties as long as certain rules are followed. Jerry Gregoire, former CIO of Dell and PepsiCo, disagrees, arguing that there’s never a good reason to be a poster child in exchange for preferential treatment.

Which argument do you buy?