Former interim University President B. Joseph White received a standing ovation from a diverse array of students, faculty and staff yesterday after his address on the importance of corporate responsibility.
As part of the Business School’s annual McInally Memorial Lecture, White discussed current crises in American business in his speech, titled “Post-Bubble, Post-Scandals: Restoring the Credibility of American Business Leadership.”
“In mid-September, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reported that 70 percent of Americans don’t trust the word of brokers and corporations,” White said. “A third said they have ‘hardly any confidence’ in big company executives, the highest proportion in more than three decades.”
White, who finished his term as dean of the Business School in 2001 after serving for 10 years, cited several key events that have shaken consumer confidence in the American business system, including the terrorist attacks, the economic downturn and the recent rash of corporate scandals.
“Terrorist activities and extreme market dynamics may very well be beyond our control,” he said. “But leadership and ethical behavior are definitely our beat here in a great university business school.”
In order to restore confidence in the system, as well as boost America’s tarnished prestige abroad, White offered several recommendations, emphasizing character building for corporate executives as the most critical reform.
“Wrongdoers, especially the big fish and the egregiously rapacious, need to be punished. … Conflicts of interest in the banking and financial services industry must be eliminated,” he said. “Finally, we need a fundamental change in the values and focus of the leadership of some American companies, from short term to long term, from stock price to enduring value … and most important, from selfishness to stewardship.”
White said he remains optimistic about the implementation of these reforms, and encouraged his audience to do their own part to improve corporate America.
“We can deny our business to firms that engage in behavior we find reprehensible. And, we can hold accountable, through our voice and our votes, elected officials who fail to make and enforce rules so that business is conducted fairly,” he said.
When asked about the role of government in restoring credibility to the system, White said outside intervention was necessary for corporations to change their practices.
“I don’t think the business system is going to reform itself all by itself. I think it’s na