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Business School News

Teaching business ethics: ‘more than just words’ Add to ...

The Globe’s biweekly business-school news roundup.

Over the past decade, a succession of high-profile corporate crimes has spurred business schools, globally, to infuse business ethics and leadership into course content.

But how can schools teach something as motherhood to a new generation of business leaders?

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The latest business school to take up the challenge is Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, with a new program of education and research on “ethical leadership.” The program, to be offered through the Ted Rogers Leadership Centre at the Toronto-based management school, will have its official unveiling on Jan. 30.

The notion of business ethics as akin to mom and apple pie is not lost on Chris MacDonald, a philosopher who joined the school last fall and has been named the first director of the Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Education and Research Program. “Leadership is great and ethical leadership is even better,” he comments. “It is easy to get people to line up and nod their heads and say it is really important.”

Through after-class seminars and weekend workshops, most starting this fall, Dr. MacDonald hopes to teach business students and those in executive education about the essentials of ethical decision-making on a personal and company-wide basis.

“What we want to talk about are the actual mechanisms,” he says. “We take for granted that you are an ethical leader but what do you do to make that a part of your culture?” He adds, “You can have as ethical a leader as you want at the top ... but we also have to be concerned how that tone is heard and translated into more than just words.”

While the school already has some mandatory and elective courses on ethics, Dr. MacDonald is also developing additional modules for use by other instructors at the school. As important, he adds, is a proposed research agenda on best practices, such as corporate codes of conduct.

The program has been funded through a gift of $250,000 over five years from Jim Pattison, founder and chief executive officer of Jim Pattison Group, according to Brian Segal, chairman of the leadership centre.

Mr. Segal, a former president of both Ryerson and the University of Guelph, said that, when he was president and CEO of Rogers Publishing Ltd. (until 2011), he had had a lot of business dealings with Mr. Pattison and approached him last fall to become a donor for the program.

“If you think about business ethics, he comes to mind pretty quickly in a positive sense,” Mr. Segal says.

He hopes that students who take part in the new program will be able to contribute to raising expectations for good corporate behaviour.

“The objective is to educate the next generation of business leaders and they can intentionally become ethical employees and leaders,” he says. “I define leadership not as a position but as a process.”

Video applications

Identifying authentic candidates for business school is no easy task given stiff competition for a limited number of places.

Last year, the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., received more than 1,100 applications for 200 spots in its honours business administration (HBA) undergraduate program. (Another 400 students, recruited as high-achieving high-school graduates, receive automatic acceptance into the two-year program, provided they maintain top grades in their first and second year of university).

This month, Ivey admissions officials began screening candidates for the 200 spots using a new video interviewing tool built into the online application.

For a generation raised on YouTube, the video interview platform developed by Kira Talent will likely hold few surprises. In the online application, candidates have 45 seconds to think about – and another 60 seconds to respond to – a randomly-selected question (such as who is your favourite world leader and why) prerecorded by the school. Applicants can practice, but once the web cam rolls, there is no second chance at refining the answer.

“It’s another way for us to get a glimpse at who these young people are,” says Mary Heisz, faculty director of the HBA program. While grades account for 50 per cent of the application, they don’t tell the whole story in the search for well-rounded candidates, she says.

Ivey is the first business school in Canada to make use of online video interviews for undergraduate students. Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto was the first to pilot Kira Talent for prospective master of business administration candidates last fall and now reports positive results.

Kira Talent, a Toronto-based start-up venture, was developed last year by co-founders Emilie Cushman and Konrad Listwan-Ciesielski, members of the 2012 class of The Next 36, a national mentoring program for young entrepreneurs.

Ms. Cushman, a 2012 business graduate from the University of Windsor, says Kira Talent is in negotiation with a dozen or so business schools in Canada and the United States interested in the online interview program.

“A lot of schools are finding there is so much training on how to write the perfect essay question,” she says, which makes applicants seem polished. “They give 100-per-cent answers, but once you see them in person, it does not match up.”

 

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Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net.

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