Jeffrey Wigand, in his day was many things. With a PhD in biochemistry, (“Biography” 1), Dr. Wigand worked as an educator, in senior management positions for businesses such as Johnson &Johnson and Pfizer, and also as the Vice President of Research and Development for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (Biography Channel, 3). It was while working in this position that Dr. Wigand became a whistle-blower when he cooperated with the government during their scrutiny of the tobacco industries practices (“Biography, 2), specifically testifying in court, as well as presenting his case in the Wall Street Journal and on 60 Minutes, that the tobacco industry had a deliberate and well-though-out campaign of disinformation to keep the public in ignorance about the link between tobacco use and cancer (Biography Channel, 3). Even today, Dr. Wigand has carried on his anti-tobacco campaign in his current position as the founder of Smoke Free Kids, Inc, a nonprofit organization dedicated to youth education on the consequences of tobacco use.
MORAL ARGUMENTS IN BUSINESS ETHICS
In his work on business ethics, Richard DeGeorge outlines the two basic ways of making a moral argument: the utilitarian view (roughly, the view that what does the most people the most good is the right way to do things) and the deontological approach (the view that concepts in human behavior such as “duty” cannot be reduced simply to utilitarian terms). (DeGeorge, 12). It could be reasoned that it was clearly with an deontological approach that Dr. Wigand decided his course of action against the tobacco industry. When he left his position at Brown and Williamson and took a teaching job, his salary was approximately one-tenth of what it had been (Biography Channel, 5), so clearly he did what he did despite the economic consequences to himself. This also led to a breakdown in his family and his wife throwing him out of his house when he received death threats during the campaign against him (Brenner, 13). To judge by the personal cost to Wigand, there must have been some sense of duty which underscored his actions in trying to bring the tobacco industry to justice.
In the interest of fairness, however, one could make the argument that not all of Jeffrey Wigand’s actions were as selflessly motivated as is claimed. It is true that he admitted to interviewers that he took the job at Brown& Williamson in the first place due to the salary, prestige and power that the position afforded him (Biography Channel, 5), which was hardly disinterested action. When asked in the Vanity Fair interview what he thought his life would be like when he was 30, he answered “I thought I would be very successful. Affluent. I started at twenty thousand dollars a year and wound up at three hundred thousand dollars a year. That was pretty nice.” (Brenner, 14). This is certainly not the kind of behavior outline in the DeGeorge’s deontological argument about the importance of a sense of duty in one’s actions. Marie Brenner, writer for Vanity Fair, in her now-famous article on Wigand, noted that “It has become a dramatic convention to project onto whistle-blowers our need for heroism, when revenge and anger are often what drive them” (Brenner, 15); it is in this same interview that Wigand is quoted verbatim as saying, in regards to the tobacco industry, “You can’t schmooze these guys. You kick them in the balls. You don’t maim them. You don’t take prisoners” (Brenner, 15).
Overall, when looking at Jeffrey Wigand and his career, what one sees is a man who was willing to give up the lucrative salary and power associated with his position to blow the whistle on an industry which he clearly could see was doing great and intentional damage to the American public for the sake of the money they made from their tobacco products. This all came at a great personal cost to Wigand himself, not only in terms of his career but in terms of his family life. Wigand set a clear example in the realm of business ethics by his self-sacrificing behavior to shed light on the immoral practices of the tobacco industry, and is rightly touted as a hero by many of his supporters, and cited as an example of a businessman who put what was right above what was lucrative for him.
Brenner, Marie. (1996).“The Man Who Knew Too Much”. Vanity Fair Magazine, May edition. Retrieved from: www.vanityfair.com/magazine/archive/1996/05/wigand199605
DeGeorge, Richard T. (2010). Business Ethics, 7th Edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc
“Jeffrey Wigand”. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved from: www.biography.com/people/jeffrey-wigand-17176428
“Biography”. (2000-2013). The Jeffrey Wigand website. Retrieved from www.jeffreywigand.com