As business students from the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Gainesville Campus sat down to a breakfast of eggs and bacon, they were served with something even more nourishing: a discussion aimed at personalizing the challenging topic of business ethics.
Sponsored by the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership, a part of UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business, the Ethics and Eggs event hosted business leaders to help undergraduate students understand how ethical decisions can and will enter their careers.
Chuck Gallagher, COO of American Funeral Financial and CEO of Ethics Resource Group, warned the students that everyone has the potential to make an unethical decision that could change their lives forever.
"There are three things that create the greatest potential for making an unethical choice: need, opportunity and rationalization," Gallagher said. “If you have a need, find an opportunity, and can rationalize to yourself that what you are doing is not really bad, then that is a perfect storm. Learning to recognize these points as they come will help you prepare for these decisions. Also be aware that you are making ethical decisions now, and if you think those decisions will not have consequences, you are deadly wrong."
Gallagher speaks from experience. In 1987, he used money from a client's trust fund to make a house payment. He later put the money back, but he told students that was his way of rationalizing the action — by treating it as "borrowing" rather than "stealing." After realizing how simple the act was, he stole much more over time, and went to federal prison for those actions. In one decade, he has transitioned from young professional to inmate to a corporate executive.
Gallagher also questioned students, including whether or not they thought it was ethical for business employers to check the Facebook accounts of people applying for jobs. The question with the most divided answers during the event asked if the students felt the company Fiverr is ethical in its operation — Fiverr offers $5 to clients for the completion of micro-jobs. Sometimes, these jobs include providing positive feedback or testimonials about the services of other companies, or can include tasks such as writing an essay paper for a student.
"It's great to learn about things in the real world that fall on both sides of ethics," sophomore Sally Tang said. "Staying conscious of our goals and motivations is a very important aspect of the business world."
Cottrell MBA graduate Rick Rider attended to share his experiences as well. Rider’s capstone team project inspired the idea for Ethics and Eggs, and he was pleased to see the results.
"It's exciting to see these ideas come to fruition," Rider said as he spoke to the students. "As a student I wish I could have had this kind of exposure; I can promise you, you will be exposed to making ethical decisions early in your career."
Rose Procter, director for the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership, emphasized to students the need to establish strong personal ethics that would support their career choices.
"You need to be aware of where you stand now," Procter said. "No one knows you better than you."