Why Business Ethics?

Business Ethics is an important course in any MBA program. Its importance has only increased in the last couple of decades because of the series of high profile corporate scams and scandals where ethical lapses by the senior executives were found to be the major cause.

The challenging times that we have on our hands today requires managers/business leaders who realize the important responsibility that lies with them to contribute positively to the stakes of all the diverse stakeholders of a modern business organization. These stakeholders apart from the shareholders include customers, employees, suppliers, financiers, local community and the government. With the looming environmental crisis, even the planet Earth has become an important stakeholder. To be able to take care of all these stakeholders the modern managers need to understand the linkages that a corporation has with all of them, as well as ‘feel responsible’ for all these stakeholders.

The moment we talk about the requirement of ‘feeling responsible’ for all the stakeholders, we enter a messy territory which is not entirely intellectual. In order to ‘feel responsible’ for all the stakeholders and the planet, the managers need to have not only a bright ‘head’ but also a beautiful ‘heart’. So, in this course, we try to inspire the students by helping them to study and analyze the important role that timeless universal values such as integrity, compassion, kindness, love, humility etc. can play in the lives of successful business leaders and managers. We split the course into four parts which are (i) personal & professional ethics, (ii) group/team ethics, (iii) corporate ethics, and (iv) community ethics. We study real life cases of business leaders and organizations who attained great professional/personal/business success using these timeless universal values as the core of their life/profession/business strategy.

But there is only one major difference at the very basis of this course which is at the level of the core assumption made by the instructor while teaching this course. This core assumption is that ‘Business Ethics cannot be taught effectively to the ‘head’ alone. The ‘hearts’ of the management students too needs to be sensitized towards the needs of all the stakeholders of the modern business organization’.

For a long time, the dominant business paradigm has been to focus only upon profit maximization. Many of the management text books still being used in many schools are based on this traditional business paradigm. Teaching management students from this paradigm does not help them to develop a holistic perspective which includes the interests of all the stakeholders. Of late, some more holistic paradigms have emerged which are finding greater acceptance among management teachers and academics. Some of these paradigms include the triple bottom line concept, CSR pyramid, Edward Freeman’s multiple stakeholders perspective etc. These new emerging paradigms which support a holistic business attitude are emphasized as more effective ones during the course.

Written by Dr. Rajiv Prasad, Associate Professor, Amrita School of Business, Coimbatore