The University of Arizona

Friendship Fuels UA Applied Ethics Program

By Lori Harwood, UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences | July 27, 2011

By funding an applied ethics program in the UA School of Government and Public Policy, Raymond Spencer is helping prepare a new generation of leaders for the ethical challenges facing them in the workplace.

Imagine culture as a tree. The branches and leaves are the visible part of the tree, just as the actions and behaviors of a group of people are easily seen. And the roots of the tree are the hidden part of the group: their philosophy, values and thinking. Why is it important to operationalize organizational culture?
Imagine culture as a tree. The branches and leaves are the visible part of the tree, just as the actions and behaviors of a group of people are easily seen. And the roots of the tree are the hidden part of the group: their philosophy, values and thinking. Why is it important to operationalize organizational culture?
Raymond Spencer (right, pictured with Neil Vance) recently was a guest lecturer for Vance's "Ethical Leadership" course. (Photo credit: Lori Harwood)
Raymond Spencer (right, pictured with Neil Vance) recently was a guest lecturer for Vance's "Ethical Leadership" course. (Photo credit: Lori Harwood)

What is an Australian businessman doing funding an applied ethics program at the University of Arizona? To find that answer, we must travel back 42 years.

In 1969, a young man named Raymond Spencer, who had grown up on a farm in South Australia, came to America and began working for a nonprofit in Chicago. There he met Neil Vance, now the UA School of Government and Public Policy's Spencer Lecturer in Applied Ethics. 

After meeting, Spencer and Vance worked together at the Institute of Cultural Affairs – an organization focused on rural and community development – for the next 15 years in Chicago and India.

Their paths then diverged.

Spencer, out of poverty and "pure desperation," went into the private sector and started a company called Kanbay, a technology consulting company; Vance went into academia.

However, the two stayed in touch and found that their different perspectives on a shared passion – applied ethics – was beneficial to both of them.

Vance invited Spencer to speak to his class about ethical leadership in the "real world." Spencer invited Vance to conduct ethics seminars with his leadership team in India.

Spencer felt so strongly about the importance of this topic that four years ago, he and his wife, Tina, began funding the Raymond Spencer Program in Applied Ethics at the UA. His donation funds research, supports students and allows the program to bring in nationally recognized speakers on applied ethics. Vance also created "Ethical Leadership," a new undergraduate honors course.

Nikhita Godiwala, a UA Honors College student in the course, said the class has strong relevance today.  

"I think leadership, ethics and classes that focus on applying knowledge instead of simply learning facts are what will benefit students in the real world," said Godiwala, who is studying journalism and philosophy.

"Everyone is a leader, and everyone will be faced with leadership roles and challenges in whatever field or career they choose," Godiwala said, adding that "learning about ethics and how it applies to good leadership is what will truly help one succeed."

Spencer believes that ethical leadership training is more important today than ever before.

"I think that 100 years ago there was a degree of consensus about what was important in the society," Spencer said.

"That does not exist today. And yet it's impossible to have an organization that's effective without some kind of common values and an understanding of what's important and what it means to be a responsible member of the organization," he added.

Spencer does not just believe in the concept of ethical leadership – a mission statement framed and hung on the wall where it proceeds to gather a layer of dust.

For him, ethical leadership is intrinsically tied to creating a corporate culture, which is necessary for employee satisfaction.

At Kanbay, Spencer had an opportunity to put his ideals into practice. The company had about 7,500 people in 14 locations in eight countries. Creating a common experience for the clients and the associates became the defining element of the company. The result: Higher employee satisfaction and one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry.

For example, at Kanbay, one corporate value was respect for the individual. In practice, this meant that employees received 10 days of development a year, and the corporation had a low tolerance for gossip and delays in feedback.

What about the relationship between ethics and profit? Did making the "right decision" – such as when Spencer had to fire a critical member of his team for questionable behavior – ever result in loss of revenue?

"At times it cost us and at times it didn't," Spencer said.

But with Kanbay's success, it was acquired in 2007 for $1.3 billion by Capgemini, one of the world's leading providers of IT and consulting services. 

"You might make money by violating your ethical framework," said Spencer, currently chairman for Capgemini's Financial Global Business Unit, a director of Rubicon Technology Inc., and a partner and member of the investment committee in three U.S.-based venture funds.

"But in the long term, I'm absolutely convinced that ethical behavior was a massive contributor to our success. And even if it wasn't, it's still the right thing to do," Spencer also said. 

Vance said Spencer "lives his life trying to make a difference," and that his gift to the UA makes a "powerful" impact on the students, the future leaders.

"I can see it in their eyes when they get it: Ethical behavior matters," Vance said. "Ethical leadership has a powerful ripple effect in the world." 

Contacts

Lori Harwood

UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

520-626-3846    

harwoodl@email.arizona.edu