We’ve asked Patrick O’Sullivan who is a professor and director of studies at Grenoble Graduate School of Business
if he can really teach ethics to rising business professionals in their mid-20s.
Events such as the Enron scandal, BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and most recently the global financial crisis have highlighted critical ethical issues in international business.
Professor O'Sullivan's teaching specialties include Business Ethics, Critical Scientific Methodology, Political Economy of the European Union as well as Managerial Economics. At Grenoble he teaches Ethics and Corporate Responsibility to MBAs.
Is learning about business ethics compulsory at Grenoble?
Yes it is, because we believe that it should be. In the contemporary setting of business, especially in the aftermath of Enron, business ethics is very important. The accreditation body AACSB expect it to be compulsory as well and it is something that Grenoble as a school values very highly.
Do you really think that you can teach people who are already well into their careers how to think ethically?
You cannot teach ethics in the old fashioned sense, the way you teach mathematics or subjects with formulae. What you can do is get them to step back and reflect on their previous actions. The module takes the form of class discussions and I think that is really the value of the course. Students get the chance to think back to situations they might have felt uneasy in. The course is really about giving students the tools to have some critical reflections.
What led to working on your latest book?
I’ve always been interested in ethics and have been teaching it for a long time. My co-authors and I wanted to cover the fundamentals of the subject and integrate ethical reflections from different business areas. We invited experts from various fields such as human resource management, finance and marketing to contribute to ethical questions.
We wanted to know what these experts take to be ethical dilemmas. We thought it was better for people steeped in these fields to discuss these concerns as opposed to ethics professors who may not necessarily be familiar with the practical aspects in these areas.
What are some of the exciting case studies referenced in the book?
All the case studies in the book are real business cases. We have a chapter on monitoring emails from Apple. We have another chapter dealing with recruitment styles of pharmaceutical companies specifically Glaxosmithkline and Novartis. Another chapter from social marketing examined Delta Airlines involvement with a breast cancer research foundation. There was also another one which examined the dumping of toxic waste in Africa.
How do you see business ethics evolving in the next few years?
Actually the last chapter of the book deals with this question. The future of business is ethical business. There is an increasing demand for ethical growth and businesses will still make profits. Many of the business school graduates I come across now prefer to work for ethically and socially responsible establishments.
This means that there will be more demand for ethical courses at business schools. I don’t think ethics will dominate these courses but teaching will make more reference to ethical thinking.