Ethics in the Working World: How OBU Prepares Graduates

MBA graduate students often hear buzzwords like “business ethics” tossed around without a real understanding of how an MBA degree will prepare them to act ethically and discern troubling situations in the corporate world. At Oklahoma Baptist University, we believe ethics are a key component of leadership skills and training.

The mission of the OBU College of Business is to provide quality, Christian-based business education that equips graduates for leadership positions in contemporary professional careers. We recently discussed OBU’s MBA program and the topic of business ethics with Dr. Richard Martinez, management professor and MBA program director.

Q: Why study ethics as an MBA student?

A:  MBA graduates are in, or will be moving into, positions of leadership in organizations that have an impact on society. In our modern marketplace, there are tremendous pressures for business leaders to achieve high levels of performance and success.

At the same time, there are always temptations to achieve that success in ways that violate laws or regulations, defraud other people, or unfairly exploit the trust of various stakeholders. As a society, we attempt to ensure that business people overcome those temptations through legal compliance and pressures toward social responsibility. But most importantly, we must help all business and organizational leaders understand how their actions impact other people, both inside and outside of their organizations.

Q: What ethics courses does OBU’s MBA program offer?

A:  While it is true that OBU professors emphasize business with integrity throughout the entire MBA program, we have designed one course specifically to emphasize ethics in the marketplace. The “Ethics, Business Law, and Leadership in Society” course is required of all MBA students and explores the ethical and legal challenges faced by business leaders. The course uses a case approach to understand how ethical considerations apply in real-world organizational scenarios, and the consequences of ignoring these ethical considerations.

Q: How is ethics incorporated into the curriculum of OBU’s MBA program?

A: Ethics is understood to be both personal and organizational. We are held accountable both individually and corporately for the good we do and for the harm we cause. As a Christ-centered institution, all of OBU’s programs focus on helping our students develop a personal integrity that reflects biblical ethics. In the MBA ethics course, we also emphasize organizational integrity, as reflected in legal compliance, corporate cultures that are shaped by ethical expectations, and an understanding of corporate social responsibility.

Q: How can students apply the lessons learned in an ethics course to their job?

A:  Throughout the MBA program and in the ethics course, there is much discussion of spectacular ethical failures. While it may seem to some that the Enron example — explored in great detail in the ethics course — is overly emphasized, I don’t think that it can be emphasized enough. It is a great example of corporate failure — not just at Enron, but also at Arthur Andersen and other firms that were collateral damage in the case. Enron Corporation had one of the most admirable corporate code of ethics manuals in the world at the time that it was defrauding all of its stakeholders. Using Enron as a case study — even 15 years later — is an incredibly powerful lesson in how bad acts and bad people can infest and corrupt good organizations and good people. Our graduates should be able to take what they have learned and simply remain vigilant and on guard throughout their careers, lest they fall victim to personal temptations or the ethical failures of others around them.

Q: How does the Christian lens affect the study of business ethics?

A:  There are many worldview lenses through which to study, discuss, and understand business (or any other kind of) ethics. Because ethics — beyond simple legal compliance — involves an existing standard of morality (i.e. what is morally ‘right’ and what is morally ‘wrong’), it inherently invokes a philosophy, or a religious faith, or a worldview. Despite the increasing secularization of our culture, any understanding of ethics is informed by one’s worldview. A biblically-based Christian worldview leads us to specific claims about morality, God’s expectations of our behavior and, thus, ethics. Even in the business marketplace, there are biblical precepts, commandments, and expectations that should have an influence on our behavior.