Alsop: schools should teach business ethics

Headlining speaker Christopher J. Christie, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, failed to arrive at last Wednesday’s student forum on business ethics, sponsored by the School of Business.

“Ten (minutes) after 3 (p.m.), I was told he wasn’t coming,” Aimee Rogers, program assistant and interim dean for the School of Business, said. She said Christie’s secretary called and said he was “hung up at a previous event.” Rogers was not told what the previous event was when she asked.

Despite this, the forum continued with Wall Street Journal news editor and senior writer Ron Alsop. Several reporters for The Star-Ledger and other local papers left after the announcement of Christie’s cancellation, but the students stayed.

“(Alsop) was very prepared,” Rogers said. “He was only supposed to speak for 20 minutes.” He spoke for twice as long, discussing how a business’ reputation can “enhance during good times and act as a life preserver during a crisis.”

Alsop gave a speech and fielded questions from the audience before signing copies of his latest book, “18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation: Creating, Protecting and Repairing Your Most Valuable Asset.”

Alsop said it is up to institutions of higher education to instill ethics in their students. “It’s unfortunate, but most business schools pay relatively little attention to reputation,” he said.

He suggested that master’s of business administration programs especially need full-fledged ethics programs and should make ethical decisions part of the culture. “They need to go beyond the case studies,” he said.

According to Alsop, the benefits of having good ethics outweigh the instant rewards of behaving unethically. “Companies will have happier, more motivated employees,” Alsop said.

“If they can come out of a crisis with values intact and without destroying their careers, you have a happier, more motivated workplace. That leads to long term financial results.”

Alsop finished his lecture with strong words for the future businesspeople. “Public opinion is loud and clear,” he said. “Honesty is the only policy they will accept. They want integrity right now.”

While the forum was geared toward business students, there were students of other majors present. Priscilla Jenkins, junior electrical engineering management major, was one of them.

“I have an internship now and had ethics training with them,” she said. “I wanted to see how other corporations work.” Jenkins interns with Merrill Lynch, one of the businesses Alsop noted as having suffered from reputation damage due to scandals involving Martha Stewart and Enron.