In 2014, the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) distributed its National Business Ethics Survey. The ERC was interested in learning, among other issues involving business ethics, what factors employees use to judge their leaders’ character.

The survey revealed three key factors:

  • The overall character of their leaders as experienced through personal interactions;
  • How senior managers handle crises; and
  • The policies and procedures adopted by senior leaders to manage the company.

The survey’s findings, however, beg larger questions. How did these leaders develop ethical character? How do they know which tactics to use when dealing with a crisis? How do they know what policies and procedures will help reduce the likelihood of misconduct?

These are the questions Warrington is answering thanks to its ethics initiative.

“The past five years have seen such a growth of student exposure to ethics,” said Dr. Michelle Darnell, a Lecturer specializing in business ethics. “We have a lot more resources, and alumni are excited and involved, which means a lot of new opportunities for students.”

A major reason for the resurgence of ethics education at Warrington is thanks to alumnus Alex Smith (BSBA ’81). His major gift five years ago created Dr. Darnell’s position and provided much-needed funding. Smith, and his wife, Kim, have again stepped up with the establishment of the Alex and Kim Smith Family Business Ethics Challenge, an alumni challenge where the Smiths will match dollar-for-dollar all gifts and pledge commitments designated for undergraduate business ethics education up to $125,000. If the challenge is fulfilled, it would provide $250,000 for Warrington’s ethics initiative.

“The first four years saw nice, steady growth as we made ethics a more permanent field in the undergraduate experience,” Dr. Darnell said. “But now with the Smith Challenge, we’re seeing an influx of resources. This upcoming academic year will be a really exciting year with more activities on a broader scale.”

Those activities include...

Ethics Ambassadors: This student organization was launched in Fall 2014 to achieve two main objectives: Give members an opportunity to practice and develop ethical leadership before beginning their professional careers, and create initiatives throughout the College to involve more undergraduates in ethics activities.

Alumni Visits: Numerous alumni have visited with Dr. Darnell’s students to discuss business ethics. In the past academic year alone, some of the speakers the College welcomed were real estate developer and investor Rick Fletcher (BSBA ’66, JD ’68); former UF Trustee Dianna Morgan; CEO of The Sembler Company Ron Wheeler (BSBA ’87); former President of the American Bar Association Martha W. Bennett (JD ’73); and Founder of Saddle Creek Logistics David Lyons (BSBA ’54).

Warrington Welcome Case Competition: The case competition associated with Warrington Welcome, a one-credit course first-year business students take during their first semester, is centered on ethics.

Case Competition Team: The College’s Undergraduate Business Ethics Case Competition Team has recorded some impressive finishes in recent years. In 2014, the team won its division at the Intercollegiate Business Ethics Case Competition (IBECC) after finishing runner-up in 2013. In 2012, the College took second place at the University of Arizona’s Eller Business Ethics Case Competition.

Dr. Darnell believes that by combining these experiential learning opportunities, the College’s ethics courses and other activities sponsored by the Elizabeth B. & William F. Poe, Sr. Center for Business Ethics Education and Research, a more solid ethical foundation for undergraduate students will be provided.

“These are the students you’re going to be hiring to lead companies,” Dr. Darnell said. “They’ll be leading society. Ethics has to be integral to their learning experience.”

Ariela Steinberg (BSBA ’15) has been a big believer in the College’s ethics initiative since taking one of Dr. Darnell’s courses as a sophomore. When the Smith Challenge was established and the opportunity to expand the College’s ethics offerings materialized, Steinberg was one of the first students Dr. Darnell reached out to.

Steinberg has a unique perspective when it comes to business ethics. She is currently in her third finance internship, and second one in New York. While Steinberg can’t speak to the work culture before the financial crisis, she said there is certainly an emphasis on ethical behavior.

“There’s a lot of training and a lot of focus on it,” said Steinberg, a senior. “We’ve been told, ‘Make sure you’re in line; your name could be in The Wall Street Journal tomorrow.’”