An Oxymoron?

By David Mayer via   Article

Is “Business Ethics” an Oxymoron?

“I’m at the local park in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my two young children, the University of Michigan only a few hundred yards away. Before long, I start chatting with another dad who’s also there watching his kids play.

‘Do you live in the neighborhood?’ he asks. ‘Yes, two blocks away.’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Oh, I teach at the business school—’ An expression that might be one of distaste flickers across his face momentarily. ‘—and do research on business ethics.’ ‘Business ethics,’ he repeats. ‘Isn’t that an oxymoron?’ He grins wryly, and I think I even catch an eye roll. I hold back a wince and give him a fake little half-smile instead. End scene. …

When researchers asked people to list the qualities they saw as critical for being an effective business leader, these were a few of the top terms:

  • intelligent
  • motivated
  • dynamic
  • strong
  • charismatic

Here are some words that didn’t emerge:

  • ethical
  • moral
  • fair
  • transparent
  • honest
  • principled
  • virtuous
  • honorable

To be fair, ‘compassion’ and ‘sincerity’ are on the list of reported attributes. Still, they’re outnumbered by others that make it clear that the focus is more on doing well than on doing good. …

Millennials are now asking for more meaning from their work than earlier generations did, and they’re increasingly interested in companies that do good—even if that means earning less. Movements like conscious capitalism, B Corps, creative capitalism, and social business are redefining the goals, operating principles, and responsibilities that for-profit companies have in the modern world. …

I’m hopeful that if my two kids grow up to work in the business world, they won’t have to face the same sort of cynicism I recently confronted in the park. But for now, the fake half-smile I gave the father I spoke with masks my optimism about where business is actually headed.”



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