Executives charged with corporate wrongdoing make headlines. Executives who lead ethically and according to moral codes typically don’t. Bev Kracher, PhD, holder of the Robert B. Daughtery Chair in Business, Ethics and Society and CEO and executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance, believes the latter category of business leader outnumbers the former.
In January, Kracher attended the James A. and Linda R. Mitchell American College Forum on Ethical Leadership in Financial Services in Naples, Florida. Sponsored by American College’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics in Financial Services, the forum gathers practitioners from financial services companies and business ethicists from academia to discuss key issues facing the financial services industry and to examine the ethical dilemmas executives encounter and the questions ethicists raise in academic environments.
In addition to Kracher, five professors from Marquette University, Michigan State University, the University of Virginia, the University of St. Thomas and Ryerson University in Canada made up the forum’s academic contingent. The seven executives present represented MassMutual, Prudential Financial, IDS Life Insurance Company, Foresters Financial, Northwestern Mutual, M Financial Group and the American College of Financial Services.
Kracher has been an advisory board member of the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics in Financial Services since 2015. This was the second forum in which she participated. The gathering has remained small since its inception 19 years ago “to enable open and trusting conversations,” Kracher says, and the group operates under the Chatham House Rule; what is said during the meeting remains private between its participants.
Kracher says the ethical issues they discuss are “timeless” and include the handling of government regulations, creating ethical and high-trust organizational cultures, human relations and the ethics of pricing. Increasingly, technology’s impact on business has crept into the conversation, as did the #MeToo movement in January’s meeting.
Bringing together executives and academics provides a complementary approach to common ethical considerations. Not surprisingly, business leaders tend toward practical, real-world approaches, and academics are biased toward theory and theoretical questions.
But this is why Kracher, as executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance, particularly benefits from forum attendance. The alliance, she says, “exists at the intersection between theory and practice. Our community programs, products and services are based on research but delivered in positive, practical ways to our business audiences.”
Kracher will be asking some of her fellow participants to come to Omaha to speak at future Business Ethics Alliance events and at the Heider College of Business. In the meantime, she will share the inspirations and stories she heard at the forum in her classes and when she coaches business professionals and executives in Omaha.
She is grateful that Jim and Linda Mitchell established the forum in 2001. She says her participation in it has reinforced her belief that most executives see their work as “a noble service,” seek to conduct business in a fair and decent way, and appreciate that government regulation levels the playing field.
“Those of us outside the C-suite probably don’t know this perspective because we usually only hear about the industry when a scandal is reported in the media,” Kracher says. “It is good to have the opportunity to personally experience insurance leaders’ character and moral perspectives, and then spread the word to others.”