Decisions involving redundancies are the most difficult to make and there is ‘rarely a day when ethical considerations aren’t evident’.
These were the sage words of Graham Honeyman, chief executive officer of Sheffield Forgemasters, as he addresses Sheffield Hallam University students on business ethics last week.
Mr Honeyman spoke to final year students in the Sheffield Business School about the ethical issues and dilemmas he has had to deal with and the challenges he has overcome during his tenure at Britain’s last independent steelmaker.
He talked about the challenges he has faced since taking up the reins at Sheffield Forgemasters, including bringing it from the brink of closure in 2002 and overseeing a management buyout in 2005.
He said: “In the course of running a business which has the scope and scale of Sheffield Forgemasters, ethical choices are a matter of course and there is rarely a day where those considerations are not evident.
“From the early days of the management buyout and even earlier, decisions of an ethical nature had to be made to keep the business afloat and to take it to the point of sale.
“Part of the challenge for me has always been taking decisions on when to cut back, which inevitably means job losses and those ethical judgements are the most difficult to make.”
He added: “Sheffield Forgemasters is like a large family and so I know my staff at every level.
“However, my prime consideration on redundancies will always be based around the preservation of jobs for the majority of our staff.
“And in a business which shifts so dramatically depending on global market conditions, there will always be difficult decisions to make, but the way to make those choices is to do so with determination and to look at the good which will eventually come from such changes.”
Mr Honeyman’s visit comes at a turbulent time for the British steel industry following collapse in oil and steel prices and the announcement by Tata Steel that they intend to sell off their UK business.
Michelle Davey, senior lecturer in ethics, strategy, enterprise and change, organised the lecture. She said: “The opportunity to debate issues such as the role of innovation in sustaining business, the real risk to human life in heavy industry, energy tariffs, government support for UK business and even the rights and wrongs of manufacturing for the defence industry gave our students much to think about.”