'Tone at the Top' and the Communication of Corporate Values: Lost in Translation?

27 Pages Posted: 12 May 2020

See all articles by Alfredo Contreras

Alfredo Contreras


Aiyesha Dey

Harvard Business School

Claire A. Hill

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: April 11, 2020


Many firms that were involved in large-scale corporate frauds had strong corporate codes of ethics and values statements. These firms were also subject to considerable social pressures to be mindful of their reputations; frauds are “negative reputational events.” Notably, the frauds not infrequently involved possible, or even outright, illegality. Why didn’t these strong forces—strong codes of ethics and firms’ clear interest in maintaining a good reputation, as well as the fear of legal liability—do more to prevent the frauds? It seems hard to imagine that serious misdeeds could occur if the top management was committed to preventing them. But top management, especially the CEOs, are sending messages declaring precisely such a commitment. Might they be sending, verbally or nonverbally, other, countermanding or dilutive, messages? Our aim here is to raise this issue and consider how it might be explored.

Keywords: tone at the top; corporate conduct; ethics

JEL Classification: Z18, K42

Suggested Citation

Contreras, Alfredo and Dey, Aiyesha and Hill, Claire Ariane, 'Tone at the Top' and the Communication of Corporate Values: Lost in Translation? (April 11, 2020). Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 2, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3573790

Alfredo Contreras

Independent ( email )

Aiyesha Dey

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Claire Ariane Hill (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-6521 (Phone)

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