I was at an international business conference on the global marketplace, ethics, health care and education, at Oakland University here in Michigan. Again and again, I am impressed with the people that Dean Mohan Tanniru of the School of Business Administration brings together, and the vision of the SBA and Oakland in meeting the needs of the thoroughly downtrodden MI community. The two-day leadership program was held on October 8-9, and commemorated the school’s 40th anniversary.
On Friday, the sessions all related to the “The Future of Business Leadership,” and featured a diverse set of topics including ethics, health care reform, education and global leadership.
I had an opportunity to network with people looking for new direction in this dull job market of ours, and listened to several speakers on relevant topics for today. The first session was on Ethics and Social Responsibility, where Ken Janke, a Senior VP of Aflac Inc. spoke of how executive leadership sets the tone from the top, where people get accolades for doing the right thing, and shareholders vote on executive pay. He spoke of Aflac’s corporate citizenship and responsibility in supporting pediatric cancer programs and other community giving, how their corporate governance and internal systems support ethics and compliance. Next in the group was Betsy Bayha, a Senior VP at Blue Coat and their general counsel. She spoke to defining events in corporate ethics: Watergate; Enron & corporate scandals, the stock-option back-dating, and stockholder activism. I had to agree with Bayha that ethics is inherently a gray area, and while the world is flat, cultures are not aligned, there is a cost to being ethical and there is human greed to contend with. She concluded by listing three main things of what works to maintain corporate ethics – tone at the top; open door policy and raise your hand – which to my interfaith mind is ethics through action. The triangle was completed by Mike Houghton who came not representing GM, where he has been employed for decades, but to speak about ethics from Catholic social teachings. He talked of rights and responsibilities and the greater good, which prompted me to pose a question – how do you ensure that in seeking the “Greater Good” you are not lured to the “Dark Side?” I wonder how many got my obvious reference to the Harry Potter seventh book and Star Wars? I am not convinced I received an answer – nor am I sure that you can actually get one, since ethics is inherently a gray area…
While the break afforded me some networking opportunities, the next session really peaked my interest since my current consulting focus is on diversity training and global understanding. Richard Corson, the Director of Pontiac US Export Assistance Center, spoke to the need to be geocentric and not ethnocentric. Greg Garrett, Chief IT Strategist of VW of America, provided a lot of statistics for thought – over the next 20 years, 80% of the world’s growth will occur where it can’t be supported, by 2030, 25% of Europe will be over 65, and by 2025, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities. What better reason to support mass transportation here in MI! Go TRU! He said that we should focus on market differentiating forces, not how many people but how much content they generate and to focus ahead of the curve. My favorite quote of the day came from Joe Tori, who quoted Alvin Toffler, "The illiterate of the future are not those that cannot read or write. They are those that can not learn, unlearn, relearn." I was disappointed in the responses to my question (asked as we ran out of time), about the impact of the $165 per pupil cut in the State’s K-12 education budget passed the prior night, and the dropping of a diversity workshop that my business partner and I had planned to provide, and what I as an individual or as a corporate entity can do to counteract this.
However, these sessions, the lunch lecture, the post lunch lecture and the tone of the SBA’s conference left me with hope that there are people in Michigan who do have a vision, who are thinking to the future. I just wish that some of these people were interacting with local governments… Troy City Council sure could use some of this forward thinking in developing our tax base so that we residents are not burdened as we currently are.
Here is a link to the official Oakland University news release about the event:
A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.