Corporate integrity

BYU Management Society enters fourth decade promoting business ethics

Sobering tales of bad business behavior and fraud are easy to find. Simply unfold the finance pages of your daily newspaper or enter "corporate scandal" on an Internet search engine. The stories will file across the page like crime suspects in a police line-up.

Indeed, high-profile allegations of business fraud have transformed corporate brands such as "Enron" into synonyms for avarice. Meanwhile, local papers tell of senior citizens scammed of their life savings by fraudulent men and women they once trusted.

Sometimes the con artist and victim are members of the same congregation of various religious faiths. Since Latter-day Saints are not exempt, some will find they are in the same ward or stake— fellow members and friends.

Earlier this year, the First Presidency urged members to be wary of fraud and expressed concern that "there are those who use relationships of trust to promote risky or even fraudulent investment and business schemes."

Locating accounts of ethical, moral business practices is a bit trickier. Conducting honest business is typically transparent. It goes unnoticed. When was the last time you called your mechanic and thanked him for correctly repairing your transmission at the estimated cost?

Still, Church leaders have long said that morality and ethics are essential in business. In his October 1987 general conference address, Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve said free societies are built upon foundations of moral values.

"Only in an atmosphere of freedom and trust could values like honesty and integrity truly flourish and thus encourage others to pursue their rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

So it's alarming, he added, when daily media accounts detail the corrupting influence of dishonesty — from "small-time" stealing and cheating to major embezzlement, fraud and misappropriation of money or goods.

Despite the many stories of corporate malfeasance, many members insist the term "business ethics" is not an oxymoron. Entrepreneurial Church members, they say, can adhere to a strict moral code and make a go in the business world.

An organization dedicated to ethical and moral corporate leadership has drawn LDS businessmen and women together for more than 30 years. In 1977, Elder Merrill J. Bateman — then dean of Brigham Young University's College of Business — founded the BYU Management Society.

The society was designed to bring together business professionals who shared a desire for high ethical standards even as it helps develop corporate leaders worldwide via networking and mentoring. Today, the society includes some 6,000 members doing business in 40 cities in 10 countries.

As it enters its fourth decade, the need for an ethics-anchored business society remains, said William Chapman, chairman of the society's international steering committee.

"We feel that there is a crisis in the world in (areas) of morals and ethics," said Brother Chapman, a California attorney and bishop.

By utilizing its many chapters throughout the world, society officials hope to regularly drive home ethical and moral practices in businesses of all sizes. Society chapters meet regularly, allowing LDS professionals to interact with fellow members and discuss ethical issues they may be facing. Speakers at those meetings often focus their words on moral business leadership.

The society also hosts an annual leadership conference at BYU during the week of the October general conference. Again, ethical and moral leadership anchors their message.

BYU Management Society's Executive Director Rixa Oman is familiar with the anecdotes of members who might separate their "church" life from their "work" life." The society, she said, is committed to "connecting the values with what we do on Sunday and what we do every other day."

Besides its work in the chapters, the society also performs a mentoring role by supporting the BYU's Marriott School of Business, said Sister Oman. Included in the school's curriculum are several courses that focus on business ethics.

Despite its obvious connection to BYU, the management society is not exclusive to graduates of the school or even Church members. Ethics-minded business professionals of all backgrounds are welcome to join.

Brother Chapman said the society's influence extends beyond LDS business professionals and students. For example, a local newspaper regularly covers the seminars sponsored by a local chapter in Orange County, Calif. Perhaps weary of "businessmen behaving badly" stories, the editors of the paper were eager to include coverage of members of the business community dedicated to moral business practices.

"All we can do is continue to talk about (ethics)," Brother Chapman said.

As the society grows, its leaders hope to realize the challenge extended by Elder David B. Haight:

"We need members of the BYU Management Society to help build the moral base of our communities. You have standards, ideals and values that will not only lead you to success, but will bless and strengthen this nation and all the world."

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