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Making Better Lives

According to McGowan’s Ethical Leader of the Year, ethics are good for both the bottom line and society.

Anything but linear.

That’s how Prudential’s chairman and CEO Charles F. Lowrey describes his career, an unexpected path from founding an architecture firm to heading a financial services giant. But like the beams that are invisible and yet ensure a building’s integrity, there’s a consistent theme through Lowrey’s career—a strong sense of purpose and commitment to ethical leadership.

At Prudential, Lowrey focuses on the company’s financial performance, but he has additional priorities: Define and communicate a clear sense of purpose and establish a rigorous code of conduct, titled “Making the Right Choices.”

Elevating ethics to being an early and top priority may sound unusual for the head of a financial behemoth, but for Lowrey, the Fund’s inaugural winner of the William G. McGowan Ethical Leader of the Year Award, it’s the right thing to do.

“Working with integrity is fundamental to everything we do,” he said in his remarks while accepting the McGowan Award. “Without that fundamental commitment, we could not sustain the trust of our customers, our investors, and other stakeholders—nor would we deserve their trust. Integrity is vital for every organization that values its future, which requires ethics to be a priority every single day.”

What does that mean for Prudential’s 40,000 employees? It means clarity around why they do what they do. Prudential defines its purpose as, “We make lives better by solving the financial challenges of our changing world.” It means building on the company’s heritage as the first U.S. company to provide life insurance to working class families and committing to increasing access to financial solutions. It means fostering an environment where feedback is encouraged, and a pledge of $200 million for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

It also means focusing not just on customers, shareholders, and employees, but also on the impact on society. The Ethical Leader Year of the Award comes with a grant of $25,000 to an organization of the winner’s choice. Lowrey chose the Newark Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalization of the New Jersey city.

This choice reflects Prudential’s steadfast commitment to Newark, the city where it was founded in 1875. Over the last decade, Prudential has committed more than $1.2 billion to Newark. The grant also reflects Lowrey’s leadership style, putting the company front and center while keeping a low profile.

Prudential has won accolades for the way it conducts business, including being an eight-time consecutive honoree as one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere, a research center that defines and measures corporate ethical standards. Prudential has scored 100 percent for 19 consecutive years on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index and has been included twice on Fortune magazine’s Change the World list for backing affordable housing in “low opportunity” communities. The headlines focus on the company, not its leader.

That’s just how Lowrey prefers it. When he was announced as the winner of the Ethical Leader of the Year Award, Prudential’s only press release was for internal circulation.

But with an estimated 18,000 people watching the award ceremony, Lowrey stepped into the spotlight to deliver a powerful call to action.

“Now more than ever, people around the world are looking to businesses to lead as trust in other institutions has eroded. They’re expecting us to set the standard for ethical behavior and to exemplify honesty, transparency, and a commitment to fairness. That’s a big responsibility, but it’s also an amazing opportunity,” he said.

As Lowrey sees it, it’s time for corporations to prove that doing business the right way is good for both stakeholders and for society. “We can help drive progress and positive change and help build a better future.” Ethical leadership demands just that.