Our History

The Center’s Minnesota Origins

Minnesota business leaders have long been committed to the highest standards of business conduct and to business leadership in community. Working together they created a Minnesota “culture of corporate citizenship” that has earned the respect of leaders around the world. Philanthropy was part of it, but not the core. Most often, they identified community challenges and pitched in to help solve the problem – applying their leadership skills and organizational resources to get the job done. They exemplified the same approach inside their companies – establishing high standards for leadership, ethical conduct and corporate responsibility.

Yet, those same leaders knew that the job is never done.

In 1978, Minnesota CEOs and leading businesses founded the Center for Ethical Business Cultures (then known as the Minnesota Project on Corporate Responsibility and subsequently the Minnesota Center for Corporate Responsibility). Their goals: educate emerging leaders and continuously refresh and reinvigorate that culture of corporate citizenship to strengthen Minnesota communities and communities where they operated around the country. The center has followed their example by working with business, nonprofit and public sector organizations throughout its history.

From the beginning the center facilitated understanding of a spectrum of community and business policy issues, conducted institutes for emerging business leaders on stakeholder management and featured guest speakers on national and international issues.

In 1991, thirteen years after its founding, the center convened business leaders and scholars to capture the core principles guiding Minnesota business. Those searching discussions among academics and practitioners produced The Minnesota Principles which embrace the importance of serving all stakeholders – not only shareholders. This pattern of convening thinkers and doers continued as the center played a key role in developing the Caux Round Table Principles for Business (based in large part on The Minnesota Principles). The principles continue to frame the center’s work and shape its vision of ethical leadership and what is required to create a world of ethical leaders.

A Distinctive Partnership – Serving Business and Education

In 1988, the center partnered with the University of St. Thomas. This step underscored the university’s commitment to ethics in business education as marked earlier in the mid-1980s by the endowment of the David and Barbara Koch Chair in Business Ethics. The partnership positioned CEBC as a “bridging organization” connecting the knowledge and expertise of the academic world with the experience and practical know-how of the business world.

In 2004, the university and the center intensified and reaffirmed this longstanding partnership, establishing a relationship described as a permanent joint venture. Today, the center is exclusively affiliated with St. Thomas and situated in the Opus College of Business. In addition, it has developed close working relationships with other St. Thomas centers, institutes and faculty as well as colleagues at other academic institutions to develop and deliver executive leadership education seminars and conduct research on ethical leadership and corporate social responsibility issues.

CEBC’s mission is closely aligned with the mission of the University of St. Thomas and of the Opus College of Business. All share the belief, in the words of noted Minnesota business leader David A. Koch, that “the purpose of business is to serve people.”

  • For the center – Assisting business leaders in creating ethical and profitable business cultures at the enterprise, community and global levels.
  • For the college – Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the Opus College of Business develops effective, principled business leaders who think globally, act ethically and create enduring value for society.
  • For the university – Educating students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.

The CEBC History Timeline