Business Ethics Takes Center Stage at MBA Business Ethics Case Competition

June 25, 2007

Since the days of Enron, studies show that the American public ranks CEOs just above used car salesmen in trustworthiness. Changing the cutthroat perception of business through its programs and graduates, however, is a central focus at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business.

The School received an endowment to advance its strategic aim to be a leader in business ethics. As a result, the annual series of events hosted at the school will now be known as the Dale P. Jones Business Ethics Forum.

This year, the internal Business Ethics Forum will be transformed into a nationally recognized event. Dr. Mitch Neubert, who holds the Chavanne Chair of Christian Ethics and the H.R. Gibson Chair in Management Development, and Dr. Anne Bradstreet Grinols, assistant dean for Faculty Development and College Initiatives, have created an experiential and interactive way to help students understand the importance of ethics. For the upcoming fall 2007 Baylor MBA ethics case competition, Baylor has invited select schools from around the country to take part. Babson College, Clemson University, Notre Dame University, Pepperdine University, Texas A&M University, University of Arizona, University of Florida and University of Washington will compete alongside Baylor University students in the competition, which will begin Nov. 1. Nine teams will compete in three different leagues. The top team from each league will go on to the final round with new judges.

Monetary awards are given based for the best team, the best presenter and the best question and answer section. Grinols stresses the importance of the financial rewards given out at the end of the competition. "It is important that students understand that there are rewards for being ethical in the market place," Grinols said. This fall, $5,000 in prizes will be distributed among the winners.

In the past, Baylor took a standard approach to their annual Business Ethics Forum, which included a speaker/audience format. In fall of 2005, Grinols designed an ethical dilemma role play for inclusion in the Forum. MBA students volunteered to participate, and the format included audience interaction after each segment. The response from everyone involved was astounding. "Through the process of role playing and really getting into their parts, the students understood the dilemma in ways they couldn't when limited to classroom discussion," Grinols said. "It's all about experiential learning." At the same time, Neubert was exploring possible ways to move students beyond passive understanding to active engagement in ethical issues. After surveying several of his classes, he became convinced that undergraduate students also would also benefit from wrestling with ethical issues in a competition format. "Many of the students I talked with really liked the idea of testing their ethical decision making capability in a competitive context."

In 2006, Neubert and Grinols partnered to create Baylor's first case competition in Ethical Leadership. From the beginning they understood that holding an ethical ethics competition required more than good intentions. "We had to make it a priority to run the competition ethically," Grinols said. "An ethics focus creates high expectations for an ethical process. Failure on any point sends the wrong message about ethics to the participants." The rules implemented for the fall 2006 competition safeguards the integrity of the contest and ensures its fairness. The principles underlying these rules are included below:

• Parity among teams - undergrads do not compete against graduate students.

• Uniform challenge - teams analyze and present the same case.

• Capable and qualified judges - judges are briefed prior to the competition on how to evaluate the participants.

• Clear judging criteria - participants are given the criteria the judges will use to evaluate the teams.

Working in concert with Business school faculty, members of the undergraduate organization Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) helped organize the competition. Some of the SIFE students participated as members of the judging panel while others facilitated the process of keeping the competition on track and the participants informed during the day of the competition. SIFE student president, Lauren Epperson, explained to Dr. Neubert that working with the judges from Enron and Anderson was one of the most valuable learning experiences of her undergraduate career.

This year's competition involving select programs is built upon the success of the previous internal competition and Baylor's long-standing commitment to ethics and principled leadership. This new competition is an example of the commitment of Baylor to promote ethical leadership within the business school and in the larger business community. Neubert believes that through initiatives such as this Baylor Business can play an important role in the national discourse on ethical leadership. "Ethical leadership, infused by Christian principles and professional competence, has been and will continue to be foundational to who we are, what we stand for, and the impact we hope to make as a business school."

Baylor University