The danger of practicality: DU business students prepare for ethical dilemmas

Alma Limon, a DCB graduate with a double-major in Marketing and Communications

Alma Limon, a DCB graduate with a double-major in Marketing and Communications

They say money doesn’t buy happiness. But maybe it can provide a good down-payment.

After spending thousands of dollars on higher education, it seems the most practical thing for students to do is invest in self-preservation. And so, they choose a money-making major like business, regardless of how passionate they are about the subject. Students concerned with practicality are willing to endure years of dissatisfaction for a sizeable paycheck promising financial security for them and their loved ones. These students often formulate such plans: major in business, make as much money as soon as possible to pay back interest-accumulating loans, buy a house for a future family and build up a savings fund for aging parents. After fulfilling this string of heavy responsibilities, the students then return to college to pursue their true passion.

The master plan

Corey Ciocchetti, Associate Professor of Business Ethics and Legal Studies at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business (DCB) gives this well-intentioned plan a good-natured chuckle and confesses with a sigh, “I wish life was that simple, you know. But what happens is, you make a lot of money and you’re miserable.”

Ciocchetti’s sympathy is mirrored by Dr. Bruce Hutton, Director of Ethics Integration at DCB who explains that while these practical problems “are very real, students have to realize that their career out of college is a journey, not a destination. If they allow moment-to-moment externalities govern their lives, it’s a sad thing.”

Dr. Hutton further commiserates,

These are valid reasons for students to enter into business, to meet obligations of their time, but they shouldn’t consider that time period after college a lock on their life. There will opportunities for them to use their business skills to enter the fields they are truly interested in. After all, the people who contribute the most to society are the people who love what they do even if it won’t make them the most money.

Brenda Gutierrez, a third year at DU majoring in International Business explains her motivation for entering into the business field: “I want to help people. A lot of people helped me get to where I am today and I want to give back.” Gutierrez expresses a service-driven passion for business that sprouted during childhood, when her father worked in business administration. Gutierrez describes her father’s integral role in her ethical development:

My dad instilled these values in me when I was growing up and my whole family inspires me to be a person of integrity. I get really upset when others talk about business people like they’re just cheaters and all they want is your money. It might be true in a lot of cases, but not in mine.

What would you do for free?

While Gutierrez nurtures a clear vision of her future, other students experience a frustrating time choosing a career. Ciocchetti offers a hypothetical scenario to help these students realize their passion: “I ask them this: let’s say you had enough money to live comfortably but you still had to work. What would you do for free?”

Ciocchetti further endeavors to soothe his practical students’ heavy sense of responsibility by insisting that, “This is America. You can make a lot of money doing anything; it just depends on how good you are at it.” He offers himself as an example, recounting how he ran a small business teaching tennis to kids. Although he serviced a small amount of thirty clients, “I made more money at this job than I ever did working with my firm.”

Lack of passion leads to unethical practice

Gutierrez encounters daily, students who are less than passionate about the field. They enter into business because “they know they will have a job, because their parents have a firm or they have good contacts,” she explains. “But when you’re not passionate about it, you’re just going to look for the money and that’s when unethical practices arise.”

An opposite argument could be made, however, when one considers the effort required to pull off a scam. “Someone who’s not passionate about business won’t put in the effort to try and get around the rules,” offers Ciocchetti. “The way I look at ethics is: if your character is right, then you have better ethics. It has to start personally,” he says.

Alma Limon, a DCB graduate who double-majored in Marketing and Communications in 2011, agrees with Ciocchetti, recalling a quote from one of the professor’s books, titled Real Rabbits: Chasing an Authentic Life that defines character as “who you are when no one’s looking.” Limon shares her enthusiasm for the complexity of ethics, reveling in the fact that “there is never a right or wrong answer; it’s just how you see it. And sometimes, it takes mistakes to learn.” She concludes that ethics “comes down to decisions. You don’t always have to think of the best decision; it’s just the right one for you.”

Preparing for a sticky situation

Dr. Bruce Hutton, Director of Ethics Integration at DCB

Dr. Bruce Hutton, Director of Ethics Integration at the University of Denver’s Daniel’s College of Business

In consideration of this complexity, Dr. Hutton designed the DCB curriculum to prepare students for such sticky situations. One of his goals in designing the curriculum was to:

Help students understand that being ethical is not a matter of just following a set of rules. Situations are very complicated and we want to provide them with a framework within which to make the best decision. The answers are not always right there in front of you and sometimes your values are going to be in conflict. How do you resolve them? It’s a process that you have to take as an individual to understand what your values are and how to appropriate them within a business context.

The DCB curriculum prepares its students for complex ethical situations by providing them with both academic studies and hands-on training. “Every MBA and MS student takes a course in ethics and sustainability,” says Dr. Hutton. “We also have our students engage in community service and we send our graduates on a three-day outward bound experience that’s designed to build teamwork, value and leadership.”

DCB also hosts the annual Race & Case competition in which students from all over the country are challenged with a real-world ethical business dilemma, and present their critical solution to DCB experts. The presentation is then followed by a ski race held in Vail meant to physically reproduce the mental and emotional strain required to resolve such complex case studies.

Sound off!

Perhaps the most unique preparation program required by DCB is the annual Ethics Boot Camp, created by Professor Ciocchetti. Undergraduate business majors undergo a weekend-long training period led by keynote speakers Ciocchetti and DCB Lecturer Paula Holt Ph. D. The goal is to instill positive values and principles in the aspiring business leaders.

“Ethics Boot camp aims to create an atmosphere of a bunch of people working together for the greater good, engaging in teamwork and service, and listening to leaders who are role models,” says Ciocchetti. “And the ultimate hope is that some of the ethical teaching rubs off.”

Gutierrez describes her boot camp experience, confessing her skepticism at the time. “I just don’t believe that you can teach ethics; how, in two days, are you going to teach me how to live the rest of my life?” Gutierrez perceives ethics as an inherit quality that should be expected of all businessmen and women, just as these individuals are expected to take responsibility for their actions in the field: “I feel like if you’re going to be a business person, ethics should already be instilled in you.”

Despite her initial hesitation, Gutierrez appreciated the networking aspect of Ethics Boot Camp. “We had games and activities and even though we didn’t really bond, we made connections,” she recounts. “It was more about building a community and talking about our different business perspectives in teams.” Limon describes a similar experience, recalling how the boot camp “opens your eyes as to how to interact with people, how to communicate with people,” an imperative skill for marketing majors.

Limon applies her communication skills to the fullest at LegalShield, a firm that offers affordable pre-paid access to legal services. LegalShield’s code of ethics focuses on client treatment, training its employees to prevent any discomfort in clients by speaking with respect and approaching them with positive calmness. LegalShield, according to Limon’s high testimonials may stand as an example of ethical business.

“We’re straightforward,” she states, “We don’t ever change our prices. There’s a ten dollar enrollment fee for the paperwork we put in, but it’s a 24-hour business so there’s always someone there to help you.” LegalShield’s ethical standards in resolving their clients’ issues-which can range from real estate to divorce advice, identity theft and escalating bills-inspires Limon to invest her passion for business in the company’s success.

The pressure of profits

In recent decades, scandals such as Enron, HealthSouth and WorldCom, have intensified the business trade stigma. But are these scandals caused solely by greed or the self-interest of businessmen and women? Daniel Sweeney, Executive Director of the Institute of Enterprise Ethics at DCB offers a more contextual view of the problem:

Sometimes the environment develops in such a way that puts a lot of pressure on businesses. 2012 was the ten-year anniversary of the indictment of Enron. Ten years ago, there was a lot of pressure by Wall Street to produce consistent high quarterly profit growth. Some companies just can’t do that. But for some executives, their bonuses depend on their company’s profits so they figure out a way to meet that environmental pressure. They cook the books. When there’s a lot of pressure for performance, there’s stronger temptation to find a cheap, quick way to yield fast results. The more the company is focused on short-term profits, the more they will be tempted to take shortcuts.

Director Sweeney relates this dilemma to final exams, “If you wait until the day before to study, you’ll try to cram it all in and use shortcuts like coffee or energizer drinks to keep you up.”

Balancing the scales: Global scandals and global peace

“But out of all the thousands of companies that year,” Director Sweeney points out, “there were only a few companies who took these shortcuts.” With that, Director Sweeney brought up the memory of James Burke, former CEO of Johnson and Johnson, who was regarded as an icon of ethical standards after the 1982 Tylenol incident.

After bottles of Tylenol were found poisoned with cyanide, Burke removed the product from the global market and sent it back to the factories. “It was a huge decision,” Director Sweeney remarks, “but he didn’t study the issue for months; he made an immediate decision despite the consequence of losing a couple months of revenue.”

James Burke’s ethical standards are reflected by the ambitious actions of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker who pioneered the field of microfinance during the late 1970s. “Dr. Yunus developed a program to eliminate poverty for people in India,” explains Dr. Hutton. “The biggest problem was that these poverty-stricken citizens had no resources, no banks to provide them with business loans.”

Non-collateralized business loans with low interest rates therefore became the basis for microfinance, supplying people with the funds to invest in a business and pull themselves and their families out of poverty. This business approach promoted self-empowerment, giving the people the means to rescue themselves, instead of waiting at the hands of charity. Dr. Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, demonstrating the direct beneficial relationship between business, economics and peace.

“DCB offers a course called Microfinance and Social Entrepreneurship in which students travel to the countries to assist in the microfinance process first-hand,” describes Dr. Hutton. The course was born out of a partnership with Deutsche Bank in 2005. The students conduct thorough research, compiling information regarding the economic and political environment in the applicant’s region. They speak with the employees from the finance, human resources and IT side of the microfinance organization wishing to borrow from Deutsche bank in order to give the loans, and after determining the applicant’s suitability, the students report back to Deutsche bank.

During spring break, the students receive the opportunity to travel to the country to meet with the people applying for the funds and witness the positive difference business can make in the lives of others across the globe. These students gain hands-on experience in using their business skills to alleviate poverty.

In the end, disinterested business students entering into the field for practical reasons may or may not pose a danger of developing unethical practice that can harm the global society. In either case, passionate business students, such as Gutierrez and Limon, equipped with DCB’s ethical influence, will continue to make a positive impact in their societies, countering the stigma attached to their beloved trade.

One Response to The danger of practicality: DU business students prepare for ethical dilemmas

  • Paris Norris
    Paris Norris says:

    You have some great quotes in your story. The overall content is well organized. I really like your subheadings. They help the flow of your story and bring it all together very nicely. I also liked how you used a photo of Dr. Hutton in his office. The placement of the photo below and along the side of your story where he is “quote heavy” was also very clever.

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