Article

Creating Conscious Capitalists

Business Schools and Companies Work to Stem the Tide of Unethical Behavior

By Peri Kinder | Illustrated by Pat Bagley

September 9, 2013

“A big thing has happened in the last 20 years,” Agle says. “Business ethics has become institutionalized. Almost every large company has ethics and compliance officers. They have ethics codes, ethics training, they do ethics surveys. So there’s lots of good going on in terms of that institutionalization.”

The U has an orientation program for business students that stresses the importance of community by participating in a service learning project. Discussions are also held about why companies give charitable contributions and why executives donate time with nonprofits.

Interestingly enough, most business ethics courses are electives and not required classes for students. Both Diekmann and Agle would like to see that change during the next few years so ethics classes would be required for nearly every type of degree. Each year, Agle hosts an ethics conference where he brings in top professors from around the country to teach faculty members how to incorporate ethics into the curriculum. Last year, MBA ethics professors from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Northwestern and the University of Virginia visited BYU to discuss ethics teaching.

Creating vs. Capturing Wealth

Men like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan were among those first business leaders in the country who utilized their power to capture wealth. But business also has to create wealth. The trick is not getting caught up in wealth acquisition. “If you capture value, you don’t create. We generally call that stealing,” Agle says.

High levels of competition between business students can translate into unethical choices in the business world. The win-at-all-costs mentality can easily take over when faced with the possibility of beating a competitor or earning millions of dollars.

Rivalry, aggressive personalities or a strong desire to succeed are not necessarily bad, and many other professions have students with similar personalities. The trick is to make sure those principles are balanced with respect, fairness and empathy.

“One of the reasons ethics is so interesting is because it’s a double-edged sword,” Agle says. “Is a desire to win and to accomplish a good or a bad thing? It’s both. Any good principle taken to excess becomes a vice.”

Business students often get a bad rap for being overly assertive because they are the ones dealing with money and commerce in society. But good business students learn to recognize unethical behavior, in themselves and others, and make it a priority to do the right thing by dealing honestly in the workplace.

“A lot of what drove Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt was competitiveness,” Agle says. “Some of their behavior that we wouldn’t describe as necessarily ethical came about through their desire to win and beat out others. That’s a danger. It’s a danger to our business students and it’s dangerous to anyone in any field of endeavor.” 


Bone Up on Business Ethics

Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It by Max H. Bazerman, Ann Tenbrunsel

Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right by Mary Gentile

Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead by David Calahan

The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders by Max Anderson, Peter Escher

Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey, Rajendra Sisodia, Bill George

 

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