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Eggs, Egg Cartons and Wrapping Paper
by Bruce Hamm


I know many of you might be asking yourselves, “What the heck is he talking about now?  How does this connect with ethics?”  Bear with me for a few minutes and I’ll explain what these ideas have in common with business ethics.

There are many uses for chicken eggs in our modern society.  We certainly can eat them for breakfast; fried, soft-boiled, scrambled, poached, etc.  They are used in other kinds of foods, cookies, cakes, meatloaf, and so on.  They are used in tuna salad, egg drop soup, and on pizza (I’ve actually had some of these in Europe).  All provide a rich source of protein, a healthy component of a suitable diet, when taken in moderation.  Did you know that fertile eggs are used to produce many vaccines?  What about glue, egg whites can also be used as glue, not just in cooking to hold pastry or other food items together, but they also can hold paper or light cardboard together when out of regular white glue.  Some women use eggs as a substitute for a facial.  The yolks are often used in shampoos and conditioners.  Crushed egg shells can be used in compost because of their high concentration of calcium, a nutrient that helps plants.

Now let’s look at the egg carton.  Here is packaging that not only gives one a convenient way to carry eggs home but these specialized cartons also serve a significant purpose. tells us the first egg carton was invented in 1911 by a newspaper editor to resolve a conflict between a local farmer and a hotel owner over the eggs often being delivered broken.  These cartons are an engineering marvel.  They protect a fragile egg not only from external trauma but also from making contact with the other eggs in the container, thus further preventing damage.  The cartons are relatively solid, supportive and protective of a very valuable asset.

How many of you have actually wrapped Christmas, birthday or other presents?  Even if some have not, you’ve probably opened packages with festive wrapping.  What purpose did that wrapping serve?  It is beautiful paper that makes a gift something special to the recipient.  It makes an occasion festive and most children love tearing it off in a hurry to see what is underneath.  When it comes down to it though, most wrapping paper doesn’t do anything for the gift itself and the paper is quickly discarded after it is removed.  In fact, wrapping paper offers little in protection for the hidden gift and can make the gift a temptation to a thief, if left in the open.  On the occasions where I’ve wrapped things for others, I’ve had to start over on at least one package because that paper is usually flimsy and therefore easily torn.  So to recap, wrapping paper looks good but doesn’t do much on a practical level.

How do these tie into ethics?  Eggs represent the valuable assets your company develops and cultivates.  As much as the buildings, products and services that the company manages, the integrity and reputation (think ethics) of the organization are equal in value to, if not superior to, those physical items.  It is easier to lose a company’s reputation, than it is to lose a significant physical asset.  A physical asset can be rebuilt in a very short time; a reputation can take a lifetime to recover from a significant loss, if it can ever be fully repaired.

Egg cartons represent the ethics programs many companies are building.  These programs aren’t the valuable assets themselves.  Rather, they are the supportive, substantial container for the valuable assets, the integrity and values of the company people shown in their day-to-day actions.  They are the professional organization and management applied to a valuable asset.  There are many companies that have these assets yet fail to provide the resources needed to cultivate and maintain them.  We provide professional management to our company’s Human Resources, why not provide them for the other valuable assets of integrity and reputation?

Some ethics programs in businesses are like wrapping paper.  They look good on the outside.  They satisfy a cursory glance and appear attractive but they are flimsy and provide no real support for a culture that has to be professionally managed.  Wrapping paper serves a purpose but it is merely a transitory one, rather than something of substance.  In February, who remembers what last Christmas’s wrapping paper looked like on the gifts they received.

In conclusion, you might ask yourself how your company’s ethics are perceived both internally and externally.  Do you have the eggs (integrity and reputation) you want?  Many companies still don’t have them.  Do you have the carton?  There are companies working diligently to create both the underlying assets (the right culture) and solid programs that will eventually allow their assets to be protected and be useful.  Or, do you have a wrapping paper program, one that looks good at first glance and satisfies a cursory examination only to be found flimsy when put to the test?


The Author

Bruce Hamm

Bruce Hamm studied for the Catholic priesthood obtaining a BA in philosophy with an emphasis on ethics.  He has experience as a volunteer police officer.  He has over eight years in US Navy combat operations, coordinating a tactical data link between various battle group elements, controlling combat aircraft and instructing combat operations.  Then entering corporate management, Bruce conducted numerous workplace investigations, managed compliance for one employer and developed a Business Ethics program for another.  In 2001, he completed the “Managing Ethics in Organizations” Executive Development Course from the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College and the Ethics Officer Association.  Combining his practical understanding of how organizations work with his desire to create healthy corporate cultures, he earned an MBA in Organizational Effectiveness at Marylhurst University.  Bruce is now also an adjunct instructor with DeVry University Online teaching Business Ethics and other general business topics.  Bruce is WatchIT’s Business Ethics and Compliance, Subject Matter Expert.  With two other professionals, Bruce was instrumental in the formation and continuing development of The Greater Omaha Alliance for Business Ethics.  Contact Bruce at and visit

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