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Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr.
Legal Scholar

Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr.

Business ethics expert; senior fellow at Harvard’s schools of law and government; former General Counsel for General Electric; former assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services.)

Archive: Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr.

Fear and the Internet

Yes, its "democratic" form is a great boon to leaders of revolt, who can avoid the dead hand of state-controlled press and TV. But leaders of repression, beyond "finger-in-the-dyke" censorship, are likely to develop the black arts of Internet propaganda and disinformation...

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | February 8, 2011; 10:20 AM ET | Comments (8)

One strike and you're out

No exceptions, no matter how high your station, no matter how important you are to the organization. When you violate the fundamental rules of the institutional culture...

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | December 14, 2010; 12:46 PM ET | Comments (1)

It's a problem of peer judgment

From an "electoral" perspective, Pelosi's performance could, of course, hardly have been worse: Democrats suffered a historic loss of more than 60 seats and Pelosi herself became the poster child for alleged Democratic "wrong track" ideas. But from a "legislative" perspective, Pelosi's performance was also historic in...

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | November 9, 2010; 02:30 PM ET | Comments (0)

Deciding in a state of ignorance

Seasoned decision-makers value experts' views---but view experts skeptically. They learn to cross-examine them with ferocity. They learn to create "Red" teams and "Blue" teams. The Red Team is charged with providing the affirmative account of...

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | September 29, 2010; 12:44 PM ET | Comments (0)

Voluntary standards not the same as mandatory law

Leaders have significant freedom of action in determining whether voluntary standards apply in all cases or require some modification.They have far less freedom in responding to the dictates of law.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | September 7, 2010; 10:21 AM ET | Comments (1)

Where big doesn't have to mean bad

The financial institutions and the auto companies may be akin to our intelligence community, where an inability to anticipate change and poor execution brought them low.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | July 20, 2010; 10:05 AM ET | Comments (0)

When the reason trumps the result

The generals must be held just as accountable as the privates. That is why President Obama's reasons were just as important as the result.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | June 24, 2010; 10:14 AM ET | Comments (0)

Who's-on-first in the Gulf

President Obama has chosen to be the national point person on the Gulf eco-catastrophe. By failing to appoint a public-sector crisis manager of national stature, the president is seen as personally responsible for the catastrophe.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | June 15, 2010; 03:21 AM ET | Comments (2)

In praise of legal diversity

The idea that Justices "follow the law" and "don't make law" is silly. Yet this is the catechism that recent nominees have been forced to recite before the judiciary committee.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | May 11, 2010; 12:12 PM ET | Comments (0)

Being 'legal' doesn't make it 'right'

What Goldman did in the past may have been "legal" under past standards but a different standard of "what is right" should apply in the future.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | April 27, 2010; 10:24 AM ET | Comments (4)

Competitors, take note

Google is not the first company to resolve the conflict between country law and company ethics in favor of ethics. But its very public decision will make other companies rethink their own decisions.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | March 25, 2010; 06:20 AM ET | Comments (4)

No private zone

The potent libido of some in power is unchanged. What has changed is the media, where new and 'scruffy' outlets have shrunk the zone of privacy accorded the powerful.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | March 11, 2010; 07:09 AM ET | Comments (0)

LBJ's grand scale

LBJ's domestic achievements remind us that getting important things done is vastly more important than anodyne political or bureaucratic survival.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | February 18, 2010; 11:32 AM ET | Comments (0)

Flunking crisis management 101

Although the tenets of good crisis management are widely known -- communicate early and often -- there is little sign the Toyota CEO scrambled the planes in time.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | February 11, 2010; 09:56 AM ET | Comments (1)

All in the implementation

Strong leadership on implementing the policy change is what's needed now.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | February 4, 2010; 02:03 PM ET | Comments (1)

No double standard

There are many profound issues about race in America to address with deep thought and concern. Indefensible as it is, this incident is not one of them.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | January 12, 2010; 11:20 AM ET | Comments (2)

Judging Joe

Whether Senator Lieberman deserves a place in principled heaven or self-indulgent hell turns on two very different issues: the merits of his position and the nature of his intent.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | December 23, 2009; 10:57 AM ET | Comments (63)

Paradise lost

Tiger the athlete is supremely disciplined and smart. We thought the person was, too. Sadly, Tiger the person appears to be extraordinarily undisciplined and stupid.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | December 9, 2009; 10:25 AM ET | Comments (2)

18-month miracle?

Ultimately, motivation and leadership are grounded in culture: Why do we think we can change the complex Afghan culture when our "outsider" attempts to influence it have, to date, been unsuccessful?

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | December 2, 2009; 10:36 AM ET | Comments (5)

Defining corporate citizenship

One of the obligations of corporate citizenship is to provide philanthropic support for important "social goods" where neither the market nor the government do an adequate job.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | November 18, 2009; 12:24 PM ET | Comments (0)

The ugly end-game

Critics on both sides will make Senate passage of the bill ugly, but those in the center have the main task: Getting the votes to enact health-care reform.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | November 11, 2009; 11:21 AM ET | Comments (1)

Petraeus, not Westmoreland

Today, a nation divided about both Iraq and Afghanistan wars can nonetheless honor and respect the warriors, in part because public perception of the military is so different from the Vietnam era.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | November 2, 2009; 02:05 PM ET | Comments (4)

In Praise of Meetings

Bad decisions -- from Vietnam to the subprime mess -- resulted, in important part, from not having the right viewpoints about "reality" represented forcefully in front of leaders by contending teams.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | October 6, 2009; 02:39 PM ET | Comments (1)

Channeling the 'Animal Spirit'

Business organizations must be designed-to check greed, stupidity and corruption and to channel capitalism's "animal spirits" into sustained, durable creation of real economic value.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | September 15, 2009; 06:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

Power Outage

The diffusion and fragmentation of power, money, media and ideas in our current political culture turns the already-difficult process of producing great political leaders into a real long-shot.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | September 1, 2009; 11:22 AM ET | Comments (4)

'Nation-Building' Dreams

With our focus on "good governance" and economic development, the fundamental question remains: How critical are the governance and development goals to our anti-Taliban efforts in Afghanistan---and how realistic?

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | August 25, 2009; 11:09 AM ET | Comments (1)

The Power of the Personal Story

Can the administration find a story as engagingly positive on health-care reform as the Gates-Crowley story was engagingly negative?

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | August 4, 2009; 10:59 AM ET | Comments (18)

The Talented Mr. Blankfein

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was one of the few CEOs who spoke out candidly about causes of the financial crisis. For his credibility, and that of his industry, he should demonstrate how "meaningful change and effective reform" are being applied.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | July 21, 2009; 01:16 PM ET | Comments (0)

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Bringing bipartisan fact-finding and analysis to this difficult set of issues is just as much in the national interest as health care or climate change or economic recovery.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | July 14, 2009; 03:41 PM ET | Comments (0)

A Stick in the Eye

Steve Job's handling of his personal health issues are a stick in the eye of trust and make him look like he is the head of a private Valley start-up, not a major public corporation.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | June 23, 2009; 09:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

We've Lost Authenticity

Crossing the line between selectively opening windows into personality and clear manipulation will send a public official tumbling down into the seventh circle of political hell, Spin City.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | June 9, 2009; 10:41 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Junior Justice

It is hard to imagine a junior justice with no Supreme Court experience influencing, in the near term, the experienced jurists. This means the person should be chosen for the power of her mind, rather than her political skills.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | May 19, 2009; 10:08 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Long Goodbye

The "rules of comity" in both the public and private sector dictate that ex-leaders keep criticism to themselves, but certain exceptions apply, and a question of national security might be one of them.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | May 12, 2009; 11:56 AM ET | Comments (9)

SARS Corporate Playbook

The private sector response -- especially for large global organizations -- is critical because many individuals look first to their employer, and its medical staff, for help in times of global health threats.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | April 27, 2009; 02:44 PM ET | Comments (0)

It's About Accountability, Stupid

A new age of GM accountability is dawning, but how will it work is in execution, not just in planning.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | March 30, 2009; 03:10 PM ET | Comments (3)

Pitchfork Populism

Nothing less than the credibility of public regulation is at stake in the debate over the House bill taxing bonuses. President Obama (and the Senate) must reject the bill and irrational politics behind it in favor of sensible policy choices on fair compensation.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | March 22, 2009; 10:31 PM ET | Comments (2)

Dangerous Obfuscation of Facts

Both AIG and the Obama administration seem to have been oblivious to the combustible nature of the bonuses and they compounded the problem with terribly inadequate communication. The real danger is losing public and political support for further reform of the financial system.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | March 18, 2009; 02:52 PM ET | Comments (0)

Friends In the Right Places

Like Clinton and Carter before him, Obama faces an enormous challenge in overhauling health care, but he also has what they didn't have: broad consensus among key congressional players.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | March 2, 2009; 03:34 PM ET | Comments (0)

A Tale of Two Cities

A latter day Dickens would say that the bonus backlash tells a tale of two cities which are sharply divided by culture----New York (driven by money) and Washington (driven by power).

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | February 2, 2009; 12:31 PM ET | Comments (1)

Past Is Not Prologue

The politics of campaign season are far different from the politics of governing. Can Obama make tough policy choices and manage complex decision-making processes?

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | January 12, 2009; 12:31 PM ET | Comments (0)

Be Thorough

The pressures for an immediate media strategy are enormous for President-elect Obama, but accuracy in fact-finding is far more important than speed.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | December 15, 2008; 11:47 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pay for Performance

Executives shouldn't work for nothing: They need incentives to meet their new commitments.

By Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. | December 8, 2008; 02:56 PM ET | Comments (2)

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