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Ethics authority Jack Bowman speaks to graduate students

Jack Bowman

Ethics is a serious matter at the College of B&E. 

The school was ranked #5 in the nation as a top undergraduate business school for ethics in May 2013 by Bloomberg Businessweek, a culmination of the school's focus on teaching the subject across all core disciplines and an added push by Dean Sartarelli upon his arrival in 2010.

Although this commitment to ethics is nothing new, graduate students at B&E recently received a reinforcement of the importance of ethical behavior from Jack Bowman in a lecture sponsored by B&E's Center for Career Development. 

Bowman is a recognized authority on professional responsibility and ethics. After graduating from B&E in 1960, he attended the WVU College of Law where he served as associate editor of the West Virginia Law Review

Bowman went on to serve four years with the Judge Advocate Generals Corps in the U.S. Army, practiced law for a short time, and then joined the WVU College of Law faculty in 1979. During his 23-year tenure there, Bowman was named Professor of the Year by seven graduating classes.

He has been awarded the West Virginia State Bar Certificate of Merit three times (he is the only individual to do so, by the way,) was inducted into the prestigious West Virginia University Order of Vandalia, the highest honor bestowed by the University, and was named a WVU Outstanding Alumnus in 2011.

These are but a small handful of his accomplishments and credentials that make Bowman an extraordinary example for future business leaders. 

Bowman began his ethics lecture in a rather unconventional way: by talking about the 1997 film Titanic. In the movie, selfish behavior was portrayed as passengers on the sinking ship scrambled for space on insufficient lifeboats. But, Bowman argued, that was not so in real life.

"The most powerful men in the world adhered to a certain standard of honor," he said, explaining that many wealthy men gave up their seats for women and children to survive. "No one would believe it today. The media does not focus on acts of valor; they focus on corruption."

This poses a problem for all of us, he explained, but particularly for those of us engaged in business, as privilege goes hand in hand with responsibility.

"We have a crisis of character in this country," Bowman said. "Much of it is misdirected at the business community. There is no such thing as business ethics," he said. "There is only ethics. We have to live to a certain standard and tell others about these standards."

He explained that having a code of ethics in place makes it possible for businesses to quickly know how to act in difficult circumstances. The way to go about this, he said, is to link the business's prosperity with a purpose and to link corporate culture with personal values.

"The problem is not ungodly profit. The problem is unethical ways of getting there," Bowman said. "Your bottom line will reveal if customers bought your code of ethics. Bad business is a recipe for going out of business. Ethics and success go hand in hand."

He also stressed that it is the responsibility of effective business leaders to point out the good that businesses do for their communities, their employees and their customers. It must be done in a meaningful way that the public can comprehend and appreciate.

"It's not what you tell people that matters. It's what they hear," Bowman said.