Ethical decision-making is a critical skill in the modern workplace, but one that can be difficult to understand, complex to navigate, and full of murky areas and dilemmas for people looking to do the right thing. Addressing those challenges, WNET, parent company of New York’s PBS stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21, premieres season two of the documentary series Playing by the Rules: Ethics at Work nationwide on public television. In New York, the series premieres on Thursdays, October 11 – 25 at 8:30 p.m. on WLIW.
Hosted by The New Yorker staff writer and former hedge fund analyst Sheelah Kolhatkar, Playing by the Rules explores how good ethics are essential to good business by investigating three recent corporate controversies through original reporting and analysis from prominent business ethicists. Taking viewers behind-the-scenes, Playing by the Rules vividly illustrates how corporate culture can either help a company succeed or fail.
Episode 1: Engine Trouble
In the early 2000s, the German automaker Volkswagen set an ambitious goal: to become the world’s largest car company. The key to its plan was to dramatically boost sales in the United States by developing a new, clean-burning diesel engine for cars sold in America. Instead, that effort would result in the biggest scandal in the history of the auto industry. Playing by the Rules follows the VW emissions scandal to reveal how the hubris of senior executives, unclear ethical guidelines and the practice of punishing failure created an environment in which cheating thrived – and led to an elaborate cover-up once regulators started asking questions.
Episode 2: The Bank Job
Wells Fargo liked to think of itself as America’s main street banker. Nearly all are familiar with its iconic red wagon and the catchy song that celebrates the company. But behind that friendly image was a secret. In an effort to boost its bottom line and its reputation on Wall Street, Wells Fargo preyed on millions of ordinary customers – fraudulently opening accounts in their names, selling them unnecessary car insurance and charging them fees for delays which were the bank’s fault – actions which recently led to a fine of $1 billion. Playing by the Rules talks with several former Wells’ employees about the corporate culture which led to the scandal, including how complaints to management about what was going on fell on deaf ears.
Episode 3: Taking Advantage
Medicare Advantage, a system run by private insurance companies, is an alternative to traditional Medicare. Originally conceived as a way to rein in healthcare costs, the federal government now pays Medicare Advantage companies nearly $200 billion per year to cover some 19 million seniors. Yet, according to one government analysis, nearly 10% of the payments to those private insurance companies are “improper.” It’s suspected many of those improper payments are the result of fraud. Several whistleblower lawsuits have alleged that some of America’s biggest insurance companies have defrauded the Medicare Advantage program of billions, all part of the companies business models. Playing by the Rules investigates the business practices said to be behind the alleged fraud.
Playing by the Rules: Ethics at Work is a production of WLIW LLC for WNET. Bryan Myers is the series producer and director. Diane Masciale is vice president and general manager of WLIW and executive producer of local production, including the Playing by the Rules series. Stephen Segaller is executive in charge. Distributed nationally by American Public Television.
Major funding for Playing by the Rules: Ethics at Work was provided by Ronnie and Lawrence D. Ackman. Additional funding was provided by Janet Prindle Seidler, Lawrence and Alice Friedland, Edward and Joan Cohen, David Klafter and Nancy Kestenbaum, James and Barbara Korein, and Susan and Elihu Rose.