What if big businesses were to make it their mission to address the leading social problems of the country? What if business leaders were to set the ethical tone from the top of their organizations and build corporate cultures that would make ethical business practice the norm and business scandals a thing of the past? What if business leaders were to have the empathy to know the needs of their customers, employees, and other stakeholders and take care of them accordingly? What if more business practitioners were to abandon the profit maximization mindset and, instead, aim for honoring human dignity and planetary sustainability while achieving their business goals?
These and other burning business questions of the day were answered during the Eighth National Business and Management Conference (NBMC) on Nov. 27 and 28 on the theme “Reimagining the ‘Next Normal’: Business and Management in the Philippines during times of uncertainty.” The event was co-organized by Ateneo de Manila University’s Jose Fernandez Ethics Center, De La Salle University’s Center for Business Research and Development, Miriam College, and the Philippine Academy of Management (PAoM). Business educators and scholars from around the country joined the virtual event to share and learn about the latest business and management research and to hear from leading-edge international scholars and local business leaders.
Ramon R. del Rosario, president and chief executive officer at Phinma Corp. and former president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), reported how the Phinma Education Network entered the education field committed to delivering quality education at rates accessible to more Filipinos. With about 80% licensure examination passing rates and about the same hiring rates for its graduates, the Phinma schools have had to be quite inventive in supporting the learning needs of economically challenged students while remaining financially viable especially during the pandemic. For example, the group partnered with the telcos to provide mobile data access to students with limited means to access online learning during the pandemic. The Phinma story demonstrates how the private sector can embrace its role in helping meet the tough challenges faced by Philippine society today.
Professor Kirk Hanson, senior fellow of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and former executive director of the Center, presented his analysis of why corporate misconduct tends to continue and what needs to be done about it. A pioneer in teaching and consulting on business ethics since the late 1970s, when he started teaching at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Hanson has seen the panorama of business malpractice, which he discusses in his co-authored book with Marc Epstein, Rotten: Why Corporate Misconduct Continues and What to Do about It. Using a helpful apple metaphor, he said that corporate misconduct is a result of bad apples (business leaders whose characters predispose them to act unethically and are allowed to get away with it), bad barrels (CEO leadership and corporate cultures that condone unethical practices), and bad orchards (corrupt business environments that are left unaddressed). He argued for reforms within the corporation, ranging from reviewing its sense of purpose to its ethics promotion systems and transparency practices.
Dr. Michael Pirson, the social entrepreneurship track chair at Fordham University and founding partner of the Humanistic Management Network, explained that the economistic framework often taught in business schools has greatly limited the understanding of human nature as a purely self-interested agent. This portrayal of humans needs to be replaced with the humanistic paradigm, which recognizes that people can aspire to and act upon higher purpose, creativity, and intentionality. This alternative way of thinking replaces the presumption of profit-maximization with the search for optimal business practices that fully respect human dignity and the preservation of the environment for future generations.
Riza Mantaring, former CEO of Sunlife Philippines and former president of MAP, shared her experience in applying empathy for customers and employees in leading her company to new heights. During her stint as head of Sunlife, the company realized that the market did not understand financial products at all, and this severely limited the company’s ability to sell its insurance products. She led an unprecedented campaign to educate the public about the importance of financial planning and security. This move expanded the market for insurance products and led to record success for the company. Her experience proves that taking care of customers redounds to taking care of the business. Relatedly, Mantaring shared the recently launched Covenant for Shared Prosperity, which is supported by more than 20 business groups and which calls on businesses to show care for all their stakeholders by sharing the benefits of business growth and success.
The fresh thinking shared during the NBMC shows a silver lining in the dark cloud of the pandemic. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset business practices to what they should have always been: an honorable service for the good of society.
Dr. Benito L. Teehankee is the Jose E. Cuisia Professor of Business Ethics and Head of the Business for Human Development Network at De La Salle University.