Today, business is connected across the globe and it is important for business schools to teach students more than just the skills needed to succeed in their chosen fields. When presented with questions around value, we want our student to take the long view…the broader view…the ethical view that looks beyond the next quarter or next paycheck. We want them to think more about what is “morally correct” for all humanity, rather than just what is “strategically correct” for their business.
In Europe, businesses tend to first see if an action is legal, and then decide if it is socially responsible. In the United States, businesses tend to first ask if their action is legal, and then they stop and assume what is legal is also acceptable. Our future business managers and leaders must ask, “Are my actions ethical? Are my actions socially responsible? Do my actions provide true shareholder value for the long term?”
At the School of Management, ethics are incorporated in all courses for all students in all disciplines. Our professors pose important ethical dilemmas to students, placing them in the shoes of a manager forced to make a difficult decision, in which the short-term bottom line and the long-term financial and social impacts must be considered, and having them discuss what their actions would be.
For many of our students, their first job will pose their first serious challenges in business ethics. What would you do if you were a young analyst—at Enron? What is your responsibility if your first job is filling out SEC forms—for Bernie Madoff? We want our students to first think about these difficult situations in the classroom.
And think about Wall Street in recent years. In 20/20 hindsight, some argue there was very little that was illegal. Illegal? Perhaps not. Were there poor financial decisions and unreasonable risks? Certainly. But most importantly, were there bad decisions that violated some larger, global ethical responsibility? You—and history—will be the judge.
Together, business leaders, business schools, and accrediting bodies, need to work to define ethics so that there is one agreed upon standard for all businesses and all business leaders. We cannot define ethics differently in different regions of the world.
And so we count on alumni, and business leaders to help us instill this good behavior in our students and young graduates and to share their professional expertise and experiences with them.
And as a dean of a business school, I will continue to challenge faculty and staff to:
- pose the tough questions to students
- present different points of view objectively, and without bias
- give practical challenges
- challenge our students to navigate their own course in search of answers, knowing that there is sometimes no single “right” solution
It is all of our responsibility to build a community that we are proud to pass on to future generations.
To change the business world, we must all take responsibility and instill responsibility in our students for their actions. So, come join us in this important endeavor!