Ron James heads the University of St. Thomas Center for Ethical Business Cultures (CEBC) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. And he uses the CEBC's affiliation with the Opus College of Business to instill ethical values in the next generation of executives.
James, left, teaches his graduate students that business ethics is about much more than just ticking the boxes:
Compliance typically tends to look at what the law calls for. If you focus on compliance, you may miss a huge opportunity to really equip an employee with that compass that can guide them … Likewise, you can err on the other side; you can say, I'm going to give them the compass, but I'm not going to focus on the law. The most effective programs are those training programs where people blend both of those together.
(From Eye on Ethics, originally published on AllBusiness.com)
Before taking charge of the CEBC, James built up an impressive CV in the corporate sector. For 25 years, he worked for Northwestern Bell (later US West Communications, Inc.), eventually becoming the company’s top executive in Minnesota. He went on to spend three years heading up Ceridian’s international human resources group before joining the CEBC in 2000.
For James, 60, life is all about being connected to the people and institutions around you. He once said, “Businesses are a part of community –- as are government, as are churches, as are schools, etc.” So it’s natural that his career traverses boardrooms, classrooms, and academic research environments.
He also runs leadership development workshops with companies throughout the United States.
When organizations lack a top-down focus on ethics, James says, large-scale ethical lethargy inevitably sets in:
Senior leaders tend to emphasize the importance of performance and the bottom line. But if you aren’t also emphasizing ethical messages, then all employees hear is that it’s about the numbers. … Evidence of that is embodied in the research, where employees answered the question: Can I get ahead in this organization even if I don’t live up to the values? About 6 out of 10 employees said yes.
(from the book Organizational Behavior, by Don Hellriegel and John W. Slocum, Jr.)
What's on tap in 2012 for Ron James? There’s “Beyond Compliance,” the CEBC’s ongoing seven-part roundtable series on issues such as “Process Alignment” and “Balancing Stakeholder Interests.” And the coming year will see the publication of two new volumes of CEBC-sponsored research on the evolution of the modern corporation.