202 Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective
majority of market share, it had recently suffered from lack of innovation.
Another company, coincidentally the other company offering me a job, had
come along and improved a key feature of the product. The source of the
technical improvement was unknown to everyone in the room except me.
Because I had been offered the job of taking over development of this prod-
uct line at the competing company, I knew the source of the improvement.
It was strange hearing people speculate as to how the other company
had managed to “one-up” us, especially because we were trying to play
catch up on the improvement, but our version of the improvement was not
working. I did not volunteer the source of the competitive improvement,
but immediately after the meeting walked into the Vice President of
Engineering’s office. I let him know that I had been offered a job by the
competitive company, and knew their trade secret. Although I had never
signed a nondisclosure agreement with the competitive company, I did not
believe I could ethically divulge their trade secret. The Vice President
agreed. During the 2 years I worked at my job, no one ever pressured me
to divulge the trade secret. My company was never able to recapture lost
market share of this product.
WHY DID YOUR COMPANY DO THE RIGHT THING?
I have no idea. Thinking back on the situation, I am surprised, first of
all, that I immediately told the VP, and, second of all, that he agreed with
me! However, this company was a wholly owned subsidiary of a very large
public company, so perhaps it was the company culture to do the right
thing when confronted with an ethical dilemma.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
I’ve moved on to other work, but this was probably the most ethical
company for which I ever worked. But I didn’t realize this until years later.
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