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Ethics symposium draws top business leaders

CEBL Symposium feature
Speaker Chuck Gallagher signs copies of his book for Cottrell Scholars of the Mike Cottrell College of Business at UNG.

Four national business leaders joined the University of North Georgia (UNG) community in recognizing the importance of ethical leadership at the ROI (Return on Investment) of Ethical Leadership in Business Symposium, held Sept. 19 at the Forsyth Conference Center in Cumming.

Presented by the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership and Mike Cottrell College of Business at UNG, the symposium examined and discussed the various positive impacts that ethics can have throughout a business, including its employees and clientele.

"The symposium offered an opportunity for academicians and business leaders to come together and examine what is and is not working in the construction and maintenance of ethical environments," said Dr. Donna Mayo, dean of the Mike Cottrell College of Business. "It was the beginning of a much-needed dialogue about how we can work together to implement successful ethical models as we continue to focus on the many ways ethical behavior can help build strong graduates and strong communities."

Cottrell Scholars
Cottrell Scholars and Beta Alpha Psi members.

More than 220 people attended the event, including community leaders from the region and UNG faculty and students, and attendees from Columbus State University, Emory University, Mercer University, University of Georgia, and Georgia State University.

Presenters at the symposium included Joel Manby, president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment; Dr. Bruce Weinstein, author of "Is it Still Cheating if I Don't Get Caught?" and "Ethical Intelligence"; Dr. Mary Gentile, author and director of "Giving Voice to Values"; and Chuck Gallagher, chief operating officer of American Funeral Financial and president of Ethics Resource Group.

"There were a multitude of takeaways from this event, including a foundational examination of what ethics are — not what's right and what's wrong, but rather how we respond to situations even though we know which side they fall on," said Rose Procter, director for the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership. "These businesses that are handling the education of their employees in this regard to ethics, like Herschend Family Entertainment, BB&T and Lockheed Martin, are sharing their models for us to leverage through the center for the betterment of our students, businesses and region, which will become a great tool."

Other topics raised during the symposium included things such as bridging the gap between the academic side and real-world side of business, and how technology has blurred the lines for ethical behavior in some regards.

"One example of how technology is enabling unethical behavior is the increasingly common practice of businesses using company-issued smartphones to stay in contact with their employees nearly 24 hours a day," Procter said. "The employees often feel pressured to comply, and will spend their personal time answering emails or working on projects because they know the company is aware that they have the means to do so in their pockets. Is that fair and ethical? It was great to see our students critically examining these presentations and questions, as well as interacting with the speakers and business professionals in attendance."

On Sept. 18, UNG's Dahlonega Campus hosted a preview luncheon giving business and community leaders, along with UNG faculty and Cottrell Scholars — UNG's top business students — the opportunity to meet the speakers as well as hear from Manby about why ethical leadership is important to Herschend Family Entertainment business, how it has been a sizeable return on investment, and the importance of formal education on the topic.

After the luncheon, the speakers participated in a one-hour panel discussion moderated by Latasha Brinson, site lead for ethics and business conduct at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Marietta. The panel discussion was video-recorded and will be provided to other organizations and universities to use as part of their business ethics curricula.

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