Ethics Challenge

Five years ago, Alex and Kim Smith made an incredible commitment to enhance undergraduate ethics education at the Heavener School of Business. Thanks to their generosity, Heavener’s ethics initiative experienced tremendous growth.

But there is more to be accomplished, and the Smiths are challenging Warrington alumni to help.

The Smiths have created the Alex and Kim Smith Family Business Ethics Challenge. The Smiths will match dollar-for-dollar all gifts and pledge commitments designated for undergraduate business ethics education up to $125,000 by Dec. 31. The Challenge could produce $250,000 for Heavener’s ethics program.

“We’re excited to be a part of it,” said Alex (BSBA ’81). “Hopefully this challenge will capture that excitement, and bring additional resources to the program.”

In 2010, the Smiths made a five-year commitment to reinvigorate the College’s ethics program, which was scaled back due to budget constraints. That gift helped re-establish the program’s foundation, most notably with the hiring of Dr. Michelle Darnell, who instructs Ethics in Global Business and directs Heavener’s Undergraduate Business Ethics Case Competition Team.

Since 2010, Dr. Darnell has taught business ethics to more than 800 students, and the case competition team has recorded some impressive finishes since it was established in that same year. Additionally, a new student organization committed to introducing ethics-related programs and initiatives is being created this year, and more speakers are visiting with ethics students for in-class and informal sessions.

The funds from the Smiths’ Challenge will further build upon this solid foundation. These funds will go toward enhancing and expanding involvement in case competitions, developing an Ethics Capstone Competition for upperclassmen and providing faculty with resources and training to further incorporate ethics into the undergraduate curriculum among other objectives.

“Ethics has always been implicitly present in the undergraduate curriculum, but the support offered by the Smith family has enabled many opportunities for students to explicitly reflect on the importance of ethical practice in business, and to further develop their ethical decision making skills,” Dr. Darnell said. “What I find particularly exciting about the Smith Family Challenge is that there is a clear call for all of us to come together in order to help our students develop into ethical leaders.”

“To me, ethics is highly related to integrity and trust, specifically in the investment world,” said Alex, Chief Executive Officer at Meritage Capital, an investment advisory firm in Austin, Texas. “During the financial crisis we saw horrendous lapses of integrity and ethics. That was a catalyst for me to talk to the College to see what we can do.”

Alex and Kim’s passion for business ethics education is evident, but they’re also practical about what they’re trying to accomplish.

“This isn’t about fixing the world,” Alex said. “It’s about providing the opportunity for conversations to be had at the undergraduate level about what this means, to create awareness, and to create thoughtfulness about these issues. To me, in any business relationship—any relationship—if there is any question about a counterpart’s ethics, business won’t get done.”

Alex and Kim are impressed with the advancements in business ethics at the College, and are hopeful Warrington alumni will band together to help fund this important cause. Alex said he’s already seen the progress when he visits with students studying ethics.

“It’s just refreshing to meet with them,” Alex said. “I feel positive when I walk away from the current generation of students. They are very thoughtful, think very broadly and I always come away impressed with them.”