A key objective of the center is to serve as a bridge that connects the knowledge and research of academia with the experience and practical challenges of business leaders.
We pursue this goal by partnering with faculty and seasoned business practitioners to conduct research in ethical culture and leadership that informs education and practice.
CEBC Research Initiatives
Ethics in Emerging Economies
Cambridge University Press has invited the Center for Ethical Business Cultures (CEBC) to build on its research and write a book on ethical business cultures in emerging economies including the BRIC’s (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the MIST’s (Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey). The book will address issues such as norms and standards for acceptable business behavior, government regulation, and business accountability to stakeholders for ethical behavior. Learn more about the Ethics in Emerging Economies Project.
History of Corporate Responsibility
CEBC’s multi-year project is designed to inform business leaders and scholars about the development and evolution of ideas and practices in corporate responsibility. Although terminology varies – corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, even sustainability – the project focuses on the question “to whom and for what is the modern corporation responsible” and how has this question been raised and addressed in the U.S. and globally. To encourage research beyond the project, the center supports best paper competitions, and as needed, solicits working papers on selected topics. Learn more about the History of Corporate Responsibility Project.
Ethical Risk Management
Collaborating with colleagues at the University of St. Thomas and the Copenhagen Business School, a risk management project has been launched that will provide a closer look at and create a framework for defining the specific characteristics of risk management both at the organizational and individual level. The purpose of this research is to search for a means of linking risk management with organizational values by creating models of the ethical risk manager and the organization that exemplifies this concept. Learn more about the Ethical Risk Management Project.
Other Research Initiatives
Using Traditional Narratives and Other Narrative Devices to Enact Humanizing Business Practices
Brian Shapiro, Ph.D. – University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)
Abstract: This study examines how organizations may embed humanizing narrative devices and related activities in their management control systems to enact humanizing business practices. As defined here, narrative devices include complete stories as well as story fragments that may under certain circumstances invoke a shared narrative context. Humanizing narrative devices respect a person’s dignity and capacity for personal growth, respect human rights, promote care and service for others, and improve an organization’s ability to serve the common good rather than only narrow special interests. The first section discusses the sense-making and action-guiding properties of narrative devices, and then discusses principles for applying them in a manner that respects others in a diverse workplace. The second section adapts R. Simons’ (1995, Levers of control. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press) management accounting and control framework to trace interdependencies among an organization’s narrative devices and related activities. The third section applies the combined narrative devices and systems framework to illustrate how an actual company has articulated, debated, revised, and enacted its core values over time. The concluding section discusses the analysis, its contributions to the literature, and implications for future research.
For more information about this research initiative, please contact Brian Shapiro, Ph.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rethinking the Scope of Fiduciary Duty Toward Shareholders
Katherina Glac, Ph.D. – University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)
Abstract: Theories of the firm (e.g. agency theory) and narratives in the business environment posit that managers have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the shareholders of the corporation. Because it is commonly assumed that this “interest” is the maximization of profit or shareholder value, many critics of corporate social responsibility (e.g. Friedman, 1980) have used the duty to shareholders as the main reason why a narrow focus on profit maximization is the sole responsibility of corporations. The predominance of financial shareholder interest is also evident among financial intermediaries, such as fund managers, brokers or financial planners, who interact more closely with shareholder. Most interpretations of the responsibilities of these intermediaries also focus on financial requirements of the investor clients (FINRA, 2008; Hess, 2007; Lanoff, 1980; Rapp, 1998).
In recent years, however, the shareholder activism and socially responsible investing movement have gained strength (Mathiasen et al., 2009; Proffitt & Spicer, 2006; Social Investment Forum, 2006 & 2008), which significantly challenges the vision of the shareholder as narrow-minded profit maximizer. A steadily growing number of engaged shareholders demonstrate that investors not only care about the return that their investments generate but also how these returns come about. This concern with non-financial investment characteristics is strong enough to make investors willing to trade off some degree of financial returns for the achievement of non-financial investment goals (McLachlan & Gardner, 2004; Webley, Lewis, & Mackenzie, 2001).
Given mounting evidence that growing numbers of shareholders are no longer interested solely in financial performance, the traditional and narrow interpretation of fiduciary responsibility of those acting on investor’s behalf is inadequate as justification for action or the ultimate purpose of corporations. Fiduciary responsibility of managers has also been invoked in previous debates about whether and to what extent managers can support the interests of stakeholders other than the shareholders and be more socially responsible (Boatright, 1994; Donaldson & Preston, 1995; Goodpaster, 1991; Marens & Wicks, 1999; Myers, 1994; Oosterhout, Heugens, & Kaptein, 2006; Radin, 2008; Stone, 1991). Because being socially responsible might require trade-offs between pursuit of profits and concern for social issues, previous work had to find ways to position the duties to shareholders alongside other duties. Sometimes this meant challenging how theories of the firm are understood or reinterpreting fiduciary law, which are both contested and complex issues in their own right.
This paper approaches the debate about professional responsibilities and the legitimate place of social concerns from a new and previously overlooked perspective: the shareholders themselves. Making a successful argument that managers and financial intermediaries are required to add social goals to their financial goals as part of their responsibility to shareholders would bypass the conceptual problems that previous attempts at justifying a vision of a socially responsible corporation have had to struggle with.
The case for a broader conception of responsibility that is made in this paper begins by examining to what extent current legal interpretations of fiduciary relationships might allow for the inclusion of non-financial considerations. To show that a broader conception of responsibility is not only possible but indeed morally required, the paper then lays out an argument grounded in Kant’s ideas about the respect for human dignity. A discussion of how a broader understanding of responsibility might affect ideas of professionalism in business concludes the paper.
For more information about this research initiative, please contact Katherina Glac, Ph.D. at email@example.com.
The Role of Reflection in Ethical Leadership
Patricia Hedberg, Ph.D. – University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)
Abstract: The purpose of this proposed research is to start a research stream that develops the idea of reflective leadership. Very little has been written about the concept of reflective leadership, although there are some leadership theories with related concepts, such as transformative leadership, authentic leadership, and ethical leadership. I propose that a merging of the ethical leadership literature with research on reflective practice will produce interesting implications for the ethical development of individuals and organizations. I will explore what reflective leadership looks like in practice and discuss specific ways that reflective leadership practices can be developed or integrated into an organization’s culture.
Although this is a new research application for me, it has roots in the pedagogical research I conduct on classroom reflective practices, studying the implications of reflective practice for management education. My interest in ethical leadership has been developing for a number of years, with a particular emphasis on ethical decision-making. Currently, my focus is on ethical leadership in family firms. The research proposed here would combine ideas from ethical leadership with reflective management practices. This new research will be relevant to the ethical leadership literature, offering specific reflective processes that should positively influence ethical organizational behavior.
For more information about this research initiative, please contact Patricia Hedberg, Ph.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In collaboration with faculty at the University of St. Thomas, other academic institutions and other organizations, the Center commissions and performs research into critical aspects of the creation of ethical business cultures. For more information about the research initiatives listed below, please contact Doug Jondle, Ph.D. – CEBC’s Director of Research – at email@example.com.
Published research initiatives include:
The CEBC Fellows Program brings together the wisdom of seasoned practitioners with leading academic thinkers. The combination results in a rich examination of ethical theory and evolving trends in business. Through rigorous research, discovery of new insights and case studies, leaders are equipped with applications to confront day-to-day challenges as they shape the ethical landscape of their organizations.
CEBC Fellow White Papers: