IBM and Google are highly profitable and in many ways are among the world’s most ethical companies. Both have impressive and lofty corporate value statements with parts that could be used for not-for-profit organizations. However, IBM and Google are publicly traded and employ tens of thousands of employees—they are not charitable organizations. As they react to competitive challenges, they sometimes need to reduce salaries or benefits, or engage in actions that seriously harm their competitors.
This case includes three instances where IBM faces difficult choices and its value statements seem to be of limited value (reduced pension benefits; lower salaries, and; competitive actions to protect their mainframe business). The case also includes seven instances where Google faces complicated decisions. In six of the instances, Google seems to be going against its value statements and violating various laws. However, in the seventh instance, Google stands up to Chinese censors at potentially great cost.
I use the case to discuss difficult choices corporations often face. I also use it to discuss the real value of value statements.