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Do Ethics Have a Place in Business?

A knowledge of business ethics is essential for MBAs, says Dr Chris MacDonald of Canada's Ted Rogers School of Management

By  Jessica Hadley

Fri Jul 13 2012

Chris MacDonald, who has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics” for four years in a row, talks to BusinessBecause about “The Business Ethics Blog”, featuring news and commentary about corporate ethics. For him, blogging is the natural way in which to convey his message, and to allow others to enter into the ethical debate.

What is your background?
I'm a philosopher by training -- my Masters and Ph.D. are both in Philosophy, and I've taught in a Philosophy department for the last decade. In August, I'll be making the move to a business school (the Ted Rogers School of Management, in Toronto).

How did you get into blogging?
Necessity is the mother of invention -- including the invention of my blog! I got into blogging six years ago because of the lack of decent blogs in my field. Blogging seemed like a natural medium for discussing business ethics, and yet there were literally no blogs on the topic back in 2006. I thought I might as well try to fill that gap. There are still relatively few business ethics blogs, and even fewer good ones.

Tell us a bit about aspects of business you focus on in your blog.

My focus is business ethics, broadly construed. I'm interested in all questions related to right and wrong in the world of commerce. That includes everything from the moral justification of markets, through to questions of corporate governance, and to the kinds of ethical dilemmas faced by people in business every day.

What are the similarities and differences between how you talk about business in your professional life and online?
Online my audience is very broad, and somewhat unpredictable. In my classroom, I know what my students have read because I assign the readings. So I know I can take a certain amount of background for granted. Online, it's very different. I've got readers who are professional colleagues, and some who are students, and lots from the world of business. I try hard to keep the conversation interesting, but at the same time accessible to that broad audience.

What is the best thing about being involved in the blogging world?
The best thing about blogging is exposure to a very broad and varied audience. For me, business ethics is primarily an academic topic. But blogging has led me into conversations about ethics with a wide range of CSR consultants, Sustainability gurus, and people who have "Ethics" as part of their job title in the corporate world. It's been fascinating, and I've learned a lot.

How important is knowledge of business ethics to MBAs?
It's essential, and it's essential in more than one way. Obviously doing the right thing is important in its own right, and just what ‘the right thing’ is isn't always obvious. So it takes some forethought to know how to tackle ethical challenges.

But ethics is even more important to MBAs as future managers. Managers aren't just responsible for their own ethical decision-making, but for that of their subordinates as well. Managers have a crucial role to play in structuring the work environment so that the employees who work under them understand their ethical obligations and are enabled to make good decisions.

Have you got any advice for other business-minded people who are thinking of sharing their own experience online?
The easiest way is to find an existing blog that interests them -- maybe mine? -- and join the discussion. Make sure to read carefully, and reply respectfully. That's the foundation for a fruitful exchange of information and insight.