Ethics, Integrity, Leadership, and Change

We live in times of change.  In good times and in bad, change is the one true constant.  But in any era and any economy, there are some  human characteristics that, when we hold true to them, form a solid foundation that we can build on. 

Business challenges fill the Twitter streams, the papers and the airwaves today along with the fears these changes bring to the people living through them. 

As I read about and experience the changes of our times, I draw on the lessons my grandparents taught me in times long past.

John Carmichael, c.1965The first lesson was learned from my Grandpa Carmichael when I was probably about five years old.  We were looking at a picture book and I asked him what a word  meant.  He took me by the hand, walked me down to his home office, and pulled a Webster’s dictionary from the shelf.  Opening the book, he said “let’s look it up and then we can talk about it.”  And so we did.  The word that day was dromedary.  A bit easier to define than complex issues like ethics, integrity, and leadership.  But the lesson still holds.

 Ethics: definitions from Merriam-Webster Online

  1. the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
  2. a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values 
  3. the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group
  4. a guiding philosophy
  5. a consciousness of moral importance
  6. a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness)

Integrity: definitions From Merriam-Webster Online

  1. firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values
  2. an unimpaired condition
  3. the quality or state of being complete or undivided

Leadership: definitions  from Merriam-Webster Online

  1. the office or position of a leader
  2. capacity to lead
  3. the act or an instance of leading

William G. Koerber and Ida Mae Koerber MassnickLater that evening, we visited my other grandparents at their home on Port Drive in Detroit.   Sitting in Grandpa Koerber’s lap,  I held out my favoite picture book.  Pointing to the picture, I asked.  “Grandpa – what’s this?” “A camel” he told me.  “No Grandpa, it’s a dromedary – see only one hump.”  “Why you are right, Miss Smarty Pants, it is a dromedary after all.”

Grandma told me, a few years later when we went back for his funeral, that Grandpa told that story to all his friends.  He would laugh and brag about how amazed he was to be learning lessons about dromedaries from a five year old girl.  But what stuck with me from that long ago night was what both Grandma and Grandpa had explained to me.  “It’s not just what you know that is important.  It’s what you do  with it.”

So as we look at the definitions above, we know what the words mean.  The question is not what we know – but what we do with it.

As I look at the definitions above and think about my own experiences and what’s changing in the world around me, I still draw on the skills my grandparents taught me. 

Studying the the words, as defined by Merriam-Webster, a definite and interrelated pattern emerges that allows me to synthesize my own understanding and beliefs.

Ethics becomes simply knowing what is right.  Integrity is the act of then doing what is right – even when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.   Thus, leadership is taking the personal responsibility to step out in front while basing your decisions on your own ethics and integrity as you move forward. 

My grandparents must have also known this.  For during their lives, each was a living example.  They taught these values to their children and their grandchildren. Just as I am trying to pass them on to mine.   I guess some things don’t change that much after all.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

– Joan Koerber-Walker

A Family Affair – a personal GM perspective

Today was a momentous day – the official announcement of GM’s historic bankruptcy.  It’s been covered by every imaginable news medium from print, to air, to online.  Articles and links propagated across twitter.  A quick search on Google brought back a staggering reply”  “Results 110 of about 3,370,000 for gm+bankruptcy.   You see, for me, GM was more than just a car company.  It has been an integral part of family conversations all of my life. 

A GM Family - The Koerber's in 2007When I was a child, GM meant Gonna Move.  My Dad worked for Buick Motor Division, and in those days you moved – a lot.  During the first 6 years of my life we lived in 6 different places.  One of the first songs I learned was a jingle. “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?”

I remember going with my Dad to dealership grand openings or to visit dealers during Christmas vacation. (I wonder today if some of those dealers are on the list of over 2,600 that will get a call in the next few days telling them that their family business is no more. )

I remember my Dad quoting “Engine Charlie” Wilson with the now famous quote

“…because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”.”

My Dad’s job at GM allowed him to support our family.  He worked hard and was proud of what he did and the company he worked at for over 40 years.  He invested what he earned in a home, what his family needed, and in helping his children through college.

Out of the five kids, three of us worked at GM  at one time or another.  I was the short timer – spending a summer at the plant in Wilmington painting Chevettes while studying economics at the University of Delaware.   (That’s me in white at the far right of the family picture.)  My brother Rick and sister Susan (standing between me and my Mom) have spent  their entire careers at GM.  Rick as a member of the UAW in the Wilmington plant while Susan followed Dad into the management side.  Rick was planning to celebrate his 30th anniversary with the company this year.  I wonder what will happen now that it has been announced that his plant will close in July.  Susan is out in Michigan this week.  She and other GM mangers will be speaking to the many dealers across the country and helping them understand how these changes affect them.   And Dad?  Well, as a retired management employee, he lost his health insurance benefits earlier this year and now wonders what will happen with his pension.

As I was listening to President Obama announce the bankruptcy of GM to the world live, I was reading an article in the New York Times that said ”


“And now it (GM) is filing for bankruptcy, something that would have been unfathomable even a few years ago, much less decades ago, when it was a dominant force in the American economy.”

Maybe, maybe not.  For me, GM was not a career, just a summer job.  Even in college, my focus was innovation and growth.  As an economics major in 1981, my senior thesis paper was titled – Industry in Crisis – the affects of government intervention on the U.S. Auto Industry.  I chose not to follow Daddy into GM, but rather to pursue a career in the then fledgling technology industry.  (It’s a bit ironic.  GM leaves the Dow with this bankruptcy filing to be replaced by Cisco on June 8th.  DeVry a school know for technology, will take its place on the S&P.)

Almost two decades later, while in graduate school, I recall listening to my finance professors warn of two impending crises.  One, the Bubble, was to implode a short time later.  The second – GM’s bankruptcy due to the constant escalation of its employee and pension obligation was temporarily averted by selling bonds and shifting investments in EDS and later Hughes into the under-funded pension trust.


So no, maybe we should not have been taken by surprise. GM’s foundation has had serious cracks for a while.  When the global credit markets collapsed, the challenges it faced were akin to a building with a cracked foundation that is rattled

by an earthquake. It’s structure could not withstand the financial shake up.  The company that in 2008 was number 4 on the Fortune 500 fell to number 6 by 2009, and on June 1, 2009, the ‘unthinkable’ became reality,

Now, after 100 years, GM must start anew. 

The world is watching, and I expect that there will be some really interesting family discussions when all of us come together for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary on August 1st.  As we gather round the piano in my family’s Rochester, Michigan home to sing the old tunes, I am not expecting to hear the sweet refrains of “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick” but then you never know.

Thanks for stopping by – Stay Tuned…

– Joan Koerber-Walker

My Momma Told Me…

It has been said that the difference between family and friends, is that you  get to pick your friends.  Well, when it comes to Mothers, I really lucked out.  My Mom is the type of friend anyone would be lucky to pick.  Here’s why…


Great friends are there when you need them.  They tell you the truth – even when you don’t want to hear it. And, if you are really lucky, they are people you can learn from by listening to them and watching what they do. 

mom and dad tightMy Mom is a pretty incredible lady.  She makes good choices in her life – and it shows!  She and my Dad are celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary this year.  My Dad he still thinks she its the best thing that ever happened to him.  They’ve raised five kids together and then after the kids were gone, took care of my Grandmother at home so that she could live out her final years in a loving environment with the best quality of life possible.   She is a valuable member of the team where she works and is a committed and active contributor in her church and her community.  She has lots of great friends – some of whom go all the way back to high school!

I’ve learned lots of important things from my Mom over the years, some that she’s told me and more that she’s demonstrated by just being who she is.  Here are a few things, that by her words and actions, my Momma told me…

If you believe in your self and are committed to do what it takes, you can do anything.

Be the best person you can be.  You have a responsibility to use the gifts God gave you.

Get an education – and never stop learning.

Check your work.  (She’s been know to even find typos in my blog posts.)

People have different skills and talents – learn to uncover them and treasure them.

You were not raised in a barn – don’t act like it.

If you want to get something done, find the busiest person you know.

Stand by your convictions – If you don’t, who will?

If it’s important to get the job done – sleep’s optional. 

Say I love you – often! 

You can have it all! 

At the end of the day, nothing is more important than family.

See, I really did luck  out in the Mommy Lottery.  So this Mother’s Day, I just want to say – Thanks Mom!  I love you.

Eight Straight!

Phoenix Polar Bears Make USA Hockey History  – Locking 8th Straight National Championship Berth – Announce National Tournament Roster

March 8, 2009 – Phoenix, Arizona

The Phoenix Polar Bears, Arizona’s Junior A Hockey organization clinched Western Division Championships of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL)  in an 8- 1 win over the Valencia Flyers Sunday at Polar Ice in Gilbert

They meet the El Paso Rhinos next weekend in El Paso, Texas for the 2009 Thorne Cup (WSHL championship) as they drive towards a sixth Thorne Cup victory in eight years and another shot at the USA Hockey Tier III Junior A National Championships.


The win over Valencia clinches the Polar Bears invitation to the USA Hockey National Championship making them the only team in USA Hockey history to go to the national tournament for eight straight years.   With home ice at the Desert Schools Coyote Center (Polar Ice, Chandler, Arizona), the Phoenix Polar Bears have won the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) Thorne Cup five out of the last six years, were the silver medalist in 2002, won the Junior B National Championship in 2003, and won the  Tier III Junior A National 2008 National Bronze Medal. With a regular season record of 42 wins and 6 losses, the team is a crowd favorite again for 2009.  

“If the Phoenix Coyotes had a record like this one, would be standing room only”  shared a Polar Bear fan after Sunday’s 8-1 win over Valencia. “Too bad the Coyotes aren’t recruiting here!” 

“It’s been a goal of ours since the beginning of the season to play for a division, league and National Championship,” commented Head Coach Harry Mahood. “I expect nothing but a hard fought series with El Paso next weekend.  With the addition of Chris Walker, Curtis Kelner and Rusty Roe at the trading deadline we were able to significantly strengthen our team in all areas. We are ready for Thorne Cup play and to compete at the national level. I look to our captain, Troy Crowley, to have a big series.”

Unlike many USA Hockey teams, the Polar Bears have 18 local players on its roster, young men who have been groomed in local hockey programs to a level of National excellence.  The other half of the roster brings players from around the US and Canada.   “It’s rewarding to see players who have developed through our programs rise to this level of play” shared Brad Berman, president of Polar Ice Ventures and Defensive Coach for the Polar Bears.  “It’s what this program is all about – helping young players develop the skills and a love of the game.”  Amateur Hockey has become a thriving business in the Desert since the Phoenix Coyotes made their home here in the 90’s.  Leagues begin with Mini Mites and move up through the age brackets to the highest level of amateur play – Juniors.  They next step for some of these players will be NCAA Hockey play and for a select few – dreams of future NHL contracts.  Rinks across the valley groom the young players in Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale, Peoria and Phoenix.

The Polar Bears are led by team captain Troy Crowley  and assistant captains Curtis Kelner, Scott Skrudland, and Rocky DeAngelo.  The full National Tournament Roster is provided in the insert at the end of this release.

“We are proud to be surrounded by such a great group of dedicated young men.  Each committed to reaching and attaining the National Championship with pride and purpose” stated Phoenix Polar Bears Head Coach and General Manager Harry Mahood. 


Posted by Proud ‘Momma Bear’ Joan Koerber-Walker