If all that risk and hard work you weathered in starting a company have begun to pay off and you want to reward yourself -- say, with a snazzy car -- should youworry about the message it sends to employees?

"The issue is one of morale, not morals," says Gary Edwards, president of the Ethics Resource Center, in Washington, D.C., which providesconsulting to businesses and government. "You have an obligation to pay employees fairly, but as an owner, you took the risks and should reap the rewards."

Chuck Piola, executive vice-president of sales for NCO Financial Systems, in Blue Bell, Pa., agrees. He drives a Mercedes but makes sure everyone knowshis story. "Apologize for getting rich," says Piola. "Say, 'Listen, I'm uneasy with this, but I've worked hard, and I want to reward myself."

On the other hand, Mirit and Josef Rabinovitz, founders of JMR Electronics, in Northridge, Calif., don't believe there's anything to apologize for. Theyheard grumbling when they bought a Mercedes, but laughed it off. "If you become defensive, that legitimizes their objection," they say.