In the face of signs of corruption witnessed by the business world, especially at the beginning of the 21st century, the IECO upholds the need to promote a positive vision of the professionals who run corporations. It also proposes to disseminate the paradigm of people who govern organizations with ethical leadership, and revealing the work of those who promote the integral human development of their workers.
The seventh edition of the IECO – RCC (Real Colegio Complutense) International Colloquiums took place on April 4, under the title “Ethics and Trust Matter in Business: A tribute to the Legacy of Michael Hoffman”, and it was meant to be a tribute to W. Michael Hoffman, who passed away a few months ago and was a world pioneer in Business Ethics issues. With his example and over 40 years of work, Michael leaves behind a legacy that entrusts new generations with its preservation, expansion and strengthening.
Leading scholars and professionals from the Boston area met to discuss the importance of business ethics, in the face of evidence of corruption witnessed by organizations since the beginning of the 21st century. The gathering also became an occasion for both speakers and attendees to remember the contribution of the late Professor Hoffman. Mike, as he was known to his friends, was a member of the Advisory Council of IECO, and his entire life had been committed to advancing in the field of Business Ethics. In the words of professor Hoffman himself: “When businesses are guided by solid ethics, societies benefit globally, the World is safer, and people may feel they share the dignity of a life well lived”.
This initiative was conceived six years ago by Professor Manuel Guillén, Founder and Director of IECO, and of the IECO-UV Chair of Business Ethics. Manuel is currently University of Valencia’s Representative at the Real Colegio Complutense (RCC) at Harvard. Since 2016, this event has been co-organized and supported by the Abigail Adams Institute, whose Director, Danilo Petranovich, served as moderator of the Colloquium. This year also counted with the participation of Mr Fidel García-Guzmán, CEO of Guzmán Global S.L., the third company to join as a sponsor of the IECO-UV Chair. The purpose of these annual International Colloquiums is to promote interdisciplinary reflection on issues related to Business Ethics and Trust in organizations.
This 7th edition, incorporated a dialogue on the current state of teaching and practice of ethics in organizations, as well as the shortcomings and new challenges expected in the upcoming years. The speakers have pondered and discussed about how to educate and motivate new generations to act with ethical leadership.
The session began with some moving words from Professor Manuel Guillén in memory of his friend and colleague W. Michael Hoffman. Subsequently, Danilo Petranovich the moderator of the Colloquium, raised the main question to be addressed for this year: How to modify people’s motivation in order to contribute to ethics in business, and thus tackle the corruption that may be present in organizations. The five lecturers delivered a response to these concerns with enlightening contributions of their own.
Dawn-Marie Driscoll, a member of the Advisory Board of Bentley University’s Hoffman Center for Business Ethics, began her intervention referring to the character of Michael Hoffman, whom she defined as a man of great integrity and a pioneer in the field of Business Ethics. Next, she wanted to focus on the nature of the organizations’ management teams, by reflecting on the excessive protection that occasionally encloses the people that compose a board of directors, which sometimes constitutes in itself an obstacle to promoting ethical conduct. According to Driscoll, it is usual to drape the directorship in “bubble wrap”, away from a company’s reality. It is necessary that the members of the governance bodies get involved, and place their hearts and minds into what really happens in organizations. And, above all, they should not fear disagreement, or asking questions with a sound critical spirit, in order to unearth everything that has been done inappropriately within the company, and thus learn from the mistakes of the past.
James T. Hackett, Harvard MBA Alumnus, CEO of Alta Mesa Resources, Inc. and Professor of Ethics at Rice University (Texas), has argued that for 21st century managers, the duty of being an ethical leader has become quite complex. The presenter, counting with broad experience in the management of large corporations, has stated that in order to act in an ethical manner in the face of certain situations, one must possess a “deep understanding of moral philosophy” and should have developed a strong “moral code”. This is something that will often involve having to say “no” to popular opinion, to your employees and even to your directors. Professor and senior manager Hackett has stressed the need for training in ethics, and in personal moral qualities that go beyond a behavioural approach to management, and the importance of teaching aspects such as emotional intelligence and moral thinking in an unified fashion.
In his interesting speech, Fidel García-Guzmán, CEO of Guzmán Global S.L has reasoned that the short-term approach in the way companies act has a great impact on business decisions and the ethics that support them. The orator has further stated that, contrary to large corporations, family businesses retain a long-term vision and seem to be more suitable models to follow when it comes to the matters of ethical practices. In addition, Guzman contends that in family businesses, it is easier to align the interests of the various stakeholder groups involved. Conclusively, the CEO of Guzmán Global, a Valencian company, has underlined the importance of having a clear purpose for every company. Such a purpose, when it embraces the ethical dimension, allows us to act with long-term vision, looking out for the common good of future generations, and considering the interests of all partakers.
In fourth place, William Bowman, Harvard MBA Alumnus, CEO of Core Values Group LLC and professor of Leadership and Entrepreneurship at the Busch School of Business (Washington), focused his speech on the importance of creating a work environment based on human virtues. The speaker has argued that there are at least two approaches to build an ethical organization: To create procedures that seek to encourage the desired good behaviours, and to foster a culture of integrity that enhances the desired change for the organization. However, this should all come from within each person. In this regard, human virtues such as diligence, optimism, patience, honesty and perseverance are those which, according to the professor, will definitively epitomise a competitive advantage for the company. Bowman has stated that companies that favour the development of human virtues in their members, benefit culturally from the contribution and personal growth of everyone, all the while generating better results. However, this last part does not represent the main goal.
Last but not least, the brilliant contribution from Dr. Donna Hicks of Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, took place. Dr Hicks’ presentation focused on the central idea that “there is no Ethics without Dignity” and that “we are all born with inherent Dignity, but we are not born knowing how to act upon it”. Dr Hicks has maintained that after working in the corporate world, trying to apply a “Dignity Model” to create a culture of Ethics and Trust, it is clear to her that many leaders want to create a culture of dignity in their companies, but they don’t know how to achieve that. She argues that there is great ignorance about issues related to human dignity and therefore, the lecturer has insisted on the importance of further education in this field.