Campus News

Ethics Week Lecture speaker discusses role of corporations

Ashley Watson

As chief compliance officer for Johnson & Johnson, Ashley Watson says she wears two hats. She’s not only a business partner, but she also steps in if there is wrongdoing and makes sure it’s addressed.

Watson, who earned a Juris Doctor from the UGA School of Law in 1993, spoke about her role and the role of corporations during the annual Ethics Week Lecture, held Nov. 4 at the Chapel.

“As you grow and become leaders in our communities, you’re going to be confronted with challenges,” she said. “If you start exercising those muscles now, you’re going to be in a better position later when you may have some really big decisions to make.”

Watson pointed out that what is legal and what is ethical are not always the same thing. Often the ethical questions are more difficult than the legal questions—the question shifts from can the company do this to should the company do this.

According to Watson, that’s just one way the role of the corporation is shifting. Now, the corporation has to focus on its shareholders, its customers, its employees, its suppliers and its communities. Successful companies find a balance and put all of these constituents at the forefront of their decision-making while understanding that their legal obligation is to the shareholders.

“Understanding more deeply where you do business and who you do business with is what really great companies have been doing and need to do even more,” she said.

Watson said that companies can’t underestimate the value of input from all stakeholders.

“This is complicated,” she said. “You’ve got to get out there, and you’ve got to talk to people. You’ve got to engage.”

Watson is also vice chair of the Ethics Research Center, which is committed to creating and sustaining high-quality ethics and compliance programs. She previously was senior vice president for ethics and compliance at Merck and also served as the senior vice president, deputy general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer at Hewlett-Packard.

Sponsored by the School of Law and the Terry College of Business, the lecture was designated as one of the university’s Signature Lectures, which features speakers noted for their broad, multidisciplinary appeal and compelling bodies of work.

The lecture was held as part of the university’s observance of Ethics Awareness Week Nov. 11-17, which is part of the institution’s ongoing effort to promote an ethical culture on campus and raise awareness about ethics resources available at UGA. This week was designated by the University System of Georgia across all USG institutions as an important reminder of shared core values of integrity, excellence, accountability and respect.

Resources on compliance, ethics and reporting are available at Faculty and staff can report fraud, waste, abuse and other ethical concerns at or by calling 1-877-516-3467.