Critical Analyses

 CA1: The Environment and Corporate Culture

Competitive Intelligence Predicament

Apply Your Skills: Ethical Dilemma

Miguel Vasquez was proud of his job as a new product manager for a biotechnology start-up, and he loved the high stakes and tough decisions that went along with the job. But as he sat in his den after a long day, he was troubled, struggling over what had happened earlier that day and the information that he now possessed. 

Just before lunch, Miguel’s boss had handed him a stack of private strategic documents from their closest competitor. It was a CI gold mine – product plans, pricing strategies, partnership agreements, and other documents, most of them clearly marked “proprietary and confidential.” When Miguel asked where the documents came from his boss told him with a touch of pride that he had taken them right off the competing firm’s server. “I got into a private section of their intranet and downloaded everything that looked interesting,” he said. Later, realizing that Miguel was suspicious, the boss would say only that he had obtained “electronic access” via a colleague and had not personally broken any passwords. Maybe not, Miguel thought to himself, but this situation wouldn’t pass the 60 Minutes test. If word of this “acquisition” of a competitor’s confidential data ever got out to the press, the company’s reputation would be ruined.

Miguel didn’t feel good about using these materials. He spent the afternoon searching for answers to his dilemma, but found no clear company policies or regulations that offered any guidance. His sense of fair play told him that using the information was unethical, if not downright illegal. What bothered him even more was the knowledge that this kind of thing might happen again. Using this confidential information would certainly give him and his company a competitive advantage but Miguel wasn’t sure that he wanted to work for a firm that would stoop to such tactics. 


A.  Miguel has come to you for advice. Choose from one of the following options, and carefully explain why Miguel should take your advice. 

B.  Then explain why each of the other two answers might not be good options for Miguel. 

Competitive Intelligence Predicament

1. Go ahead and use the documents to the company’s benefit, but make clear to your boss that you don’t want him passing confidential information to you in the future.  If he threatens to fire you, threaten to leak the news to the press. 

2. Confront your boss privately and let him know you’re uncomfortable with how the documents were obtained and what possession of them says about the company’s culture. In addition to the question of the legality of using the information, point out that it is a public relations nightmare waiting to happen.

3. Talk to the company’s legal counsel and contact the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals for guidance.  Then with their opinions and facts to back you up, go to your boss. 

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