Wall Street rates poorly for ethics, honesty

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Americans hold a dim view of business executives, giving them poor grades for honesty and ethics and blaming them for business failures, according to a survey released on Thursday.

A man passes in front of a sign on Wall Street in New York, February 10, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Nearly 60 percent gave the worst grades to Wall Street executives for honesty and ethical practices, according to research conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Corporate executives fared slightly better, getting poor grades from 49 percent of those polled.

Lawyers fared even better, getting bad grades from a third of respondents but excellent grades from a quarter of them.

The poll, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization, questioned 2,071 U.S. adults and 110 business executives.

Some 58 percent of the adults gave poor grades to top business executives for leadership during the economic crisis, while 31 percent rated them as fair, 9 percent as good and 2 percent as excellent.

Among the executives, only 19 percent gave themselves poor grades for leadership, while 53 percent rated themselves as fair, 27 percent as good and 1 percent as excellent.

Nearly 70 percent of the adults blame a company’s failure or success on the decisions of its top executives. Just 31 percent blame outside forces such as the economy’s health.

Among executives, 88 percent said they blame top executives for a company’s success or failure. Only 12 percent blame outside forces.

The negative views notwithstanding, three-quarters of adults and 85 percent of executives gave their own companies good or excellent grades for ethics.

The adults were surveyed by telephone from January 25 through February 3. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The business executives, comprising leaders of Fortune 1000 firms and companies with annual sales of $500 million or more, were questioned by telephone and online from January 26 through February 5.

The margin of error for the executive poll was plus or minus 9 points, Marist said.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Xavier Briand