When it comes to business leaders, we've all heard the stereotypes. Greedy, selfish, manipulative, heartless, cutthroat-these are just a few common descriptors that come to mind. Yet there are many business leaders who are "violating these stereotypes and doing so for betterment of everyone they touch," says John Dienhart, professor and Frank Shrontz Endowed Chair of Professional Ethics.
Dienhart should know. He's met many such leaders, and this week some of those men and women will come to Seattle University as part of a conference he is organizing titled "The Vocation of the Business Leader." Sponsored by the Albers Center for Business Ethics, Mission and Ministry, the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture and the School of Theology and Ministry, the Oct. 11-13 conference will explore the very real ways in which business leaders are aligning the work they do with the common good.
The conference was inspired by Vocation of the Business Leader, which was issued last summer by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Albers Dean Joe Phillips shared the document with Dienhart and both were impressed with its readability and practicality. (Aspects of the document, in fact, are currently being embedded in some of Albers' already mission-focused curriculum.) Although the document is unmistakably rooted in Catholic thought, Dienhart recognized that its core message-that business leaders can do well by doing good-would appeal to a wider audience and he got to thinking, "Wouldn't it be interesting to take this high-level principle of business as a vocation and see how people from different faith traditions approach it?"
The conference will bring together business leaders from a multiplicity of faith traditions, as well as people who consider themselves more spiritual than religious and those who don't subscribe to any religious or spiritual beliefs. Presenters also represent a diversity of industries and companies and many come from academia, including the keynote speaker, a professor who was integral in writing the papal document, Michael Naughton, who directs the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Another presenter is Sheri Flies, who Dienhart calls "a force of nature," and "really the architect of Costco's sustainability program." (All of the company's Kirkland products, which comprise nearly one-third of Costco's total revenue, must meet rigorous standards in terms of environmental-friendliness, social justice and economic development.)
Other presenters include SU's own Paulette Kidder, associate professor of philosophy; Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos, associate professor of theology and religious studies, and director of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture; Jessica Ludescher, associate professor of management; and Marc Cohen, assistant professor of business ethics.
Dienhart says the conference is not about arm-twisting or brow-beating. It's intended to be more about showing than telling-demonstrating that business can be profitable while improving the human condition. "There are many leaders out there who see business as more than financial transactions, that it is intrinsic to their job, rather than an external constraint, to promote human dignity and the common good. It's all one package."