Students balance bottom line and social responsibility in ethics competition

In the fast-paced, competitive world of international business, it can be too easy to get tunnel vision, concentrating solely on growth and profits. At the first Stephen Hall Ethics Case Competition, held on March 8 at the School of Hotel Administration, ten student teams tested their ability to take a broader view and assess both the positive and negative ramifications of their business decisions.

"When the pressure to increase revenue outweighs the importance of doing what's right for society, good people can end up making bad ethical decisions," said Judi Brownell, professor of management and organizational behavior and dean of students, whose office co-presented the competition with the SHA Student Committee for Continuous Improvement. "To be truly successful in business, students must learn how to stick to their principles while achieving results for their shareholders and employers."

The competition was based on an actual hospitality industry case, in which Carlson Companies, a global marketing, travel, and hospitality company, considered whether to expand its luxury brand to Costa Rica. The move was strategically sound and would poise Carlson's further expansion throughout Latin America. However, the area surrounding the proposed hotel was known as a hotspot for child trafficking and prostitution, and Carlson was committed to preventing the sexual exploitation of children at tourist destinations. The students' assignment was to navigate the complex business ethics issues of the case, develop a comprehensive presentation that highlighted the moral and ethical problems, and propose and defend a plan of action.

The competition—which included 28 undergraduate and graduate students from the SHA, College of Engineering, Dyson School for Applied Economics and Management, and ILR School—was the most recent program in a school-wide ethics initiative that launched in 2010, backed by Stephen '56 and Marjorie Hall and their son Larry '81. Larry’s son, Stephen '06, represented the family at the competition and served as a judge alongside members of the SHA faculty.

"My grandfather will be ecstatic when I tell him about the competition. This is the number one thing that gets him up in the morning. It drives him," said Stephen. "I was impressed with all the students in the competition. They did a lot of research on the topic and offered unique viewpoints on the ethics of the case."

Steve Brown ENG '13, Jordan Caines AEM '14, and Marty Rauch '14 won the competition with their plan to establish the hotel in Costa Rica, seeing it as an opportunity to benefit the company financially and also take a frontline stance in the fight against sex tourism. Golden Rule, as the team was called, proposed a cause-marketing campaign that would be used to publicize the issue and pressure the government to take action against sex tourism.

The Alchethists—Jacob Miller '14 and Max Ruderman ILR '14—earned the second-place prize. Tying for third place were Elite Hotelies, made up of Chris Cabrera '15, Qingran Chen '15, Siyi Chen '15, and Spruce Kwok '15, and Joining Ethics & Hospitality, comprised of Julia Kosineski '15 and Heidi Ripley '14.

"With the support of the Hall family, ethics has become an important part of the SHA student experience," said Brownell. "The case competition built upon initiatives we have already developed and gave our students a great opportunity to learn how to recognize and analyze ethical issues."