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Ethics Emphasis Helps Tippie MBA Students Take Top Honors at Competition

Corporate corruption cleans up well.

For a decade now, Enron and Arthur Andersen, Bernie Madoff, and dozens of sub-prime mortgage lenders have been scoring headlines for corruption and unethical behavior. In response, business schools like The University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Management have been reassessing how the next generation of corporate leaders should be taught to understand the importance of ethics and ethical business practices.

Tippie MBA students participate in discussions about ethics that are woven into many of the class curricula, and students take a course dedicated to ethics during both years in the program. Tippie also recently introduced a new course called Lead Ethics and Professionalism (LEAP) that has an extensive ethics component.

But the classroom isn’t the only opportunity for students to think about ethical decision-making. Four first-year MBA students participated in Baylor University’s fourth annual MBA National Case Competition in Ethical Leadership last month. Under timing and creative pressures, the UI team walked away with first place among 10 competing schools from across the nation. In recognition of taking top honors, the Tippie team won $5,000 in prizes and a chance to showcase their ideas of what is ethical.

“Ethics is becoming a huge part of business both positively and negatively. This competition is great preparation for the business world because it requires them to work in a team environment and to think on their feet in a short amount of time,” said Nadia Dwight, director of MBA student services and competition advisor. “It’s a great opportunity to put their classroom skills into practice within a safe environment.”

The competition, part of the Dale P. Jones Business Ethics Forum, gives MBA students an opportunity to face and delegate real-world ethical issues that extend beyond the classroom. The 10 teams, made up of four students each, had 24 hours to analyze and assemble a presentation for a panel of four judges.

Teams took on the role as a consultant whose job was to provide informed suggestions to carry out ethical practices for an existing company. The theme of this year’s competition centered on social media and where the line should be drawn to protect consumer privacy.

When a user logs onto a web site, such as Facebook, the company is able to track the web sites the user visits or the information shared online through cookies. Companies have an enormous power to share or withhold that information to their benefit. It becomes a moral choice of how much of that information gets extracted and used or even sold, Dwight said.

Competitors were faced with a similar, unnamed company and their challenge was to address how that company may ethically share data without crossing the line or going too far.

“Every transaction in business is based on trust,” said Justin Lawrence, competitor and first-year MBA graduate student. “As a consumer, I put a certain level of trust in a company. I trust they will sell me a product that is what it claims to be or that I won’t be taken advantage of.”

Each group in the final round took a different approach, Dwight said. The UI and the University of Washington focused more on consumer advocacy while Pepperdine University lobbied for the government and implementing government regulations to manage privacy.

Other schools competing included the University of Washington, Pepperdine University, Auburn University, Baylor University, Texas A&M University, the University of Florida, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Texas.

Prior to the competition the Hawkeye group underwent hours of preparation with several advisers, including Dwight, MBA program director Colleen Downie, Executive MBA program director John Fraser, and management professors Amy Kristof-Brown and Nancy Hauserman.  

“We all come from such different backgrounds, but it was good because the product resulted in a fresh perspective,” Lawrence said. “At the same time, it’s also a challenge to communicate efficiently. Overall, we ended up with a better outcome that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten on my own.”

Although differences surfaced among the group, one thing that remained steadfast was the group’s code of ethics.

“I was amazed that we all had similar values when it came to business ethics even though we all came from such diverse backgrounds,” said Lu Gao, competitor and first-year MBA graduate student.

Other members of the Tippie team were Yakubu Agbese and Salima Rattansey.


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