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A Recipe for Decisions

A MAN with an uncommon expertise - ethical decisionmaking - Prof. Ronald Howard is no common figure. A consultant to top managers in Fortune 500 companies, he rides a motorcycle and carries his helmet to meetings. A professor in an area not known for its philosophical traditions - he's a member of Stanford's Department of Engineering-Economic Systems - he teaches classes that are among the most popular in the university. ``He's very, very effective'' as a teacher, says Stanford graduate student Nazir Ahmad, who notes that ``he's very much of a mentor'' to some grad students.

``He's uncompromising in his integrity,'' says Gerry Sauer, a former student of Mr. Howard's at Stanford. Mr. Sauer has taught at Dartmouth College and is now a partner in the Strategic Decisions Group (SDG), a consulting firm started by Howard in 1981.

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``He's got the most penetrating mind of any faculty member that I've encountered,'' adds Sauer.

Douglas H. Walters, manager of Research and Special Studies for Tennessee Valley Authority, agrees. ``He's the smartest person I know,'' says Mr. Walters, who has hired Howard as a consultant for the past three years. ``He brings a completely neutral perspective to the problem. His three basic rules are: don't lie, don't steal, and don't hurt.''

How do the 100 employees at SDG apply those rules in corporate settings? Their task - not always an easy one - is to help corporations identify the right questions, establish clear values, and reason their way through to useful decisions.

``We help top executives with the problems that keep them up at night,'' quips the jovial Howard.