30 Years ago I raised my hand and made an oath to serve the Queen of Britain (not the Netherlands, I was a girl scout in the UK). And also 30 years ago, the Tsinghua University was founded in China. To celebrate this joyful fact, the University’s School of Management and Economics organized an Ethical Week, with a panel discussion with CEOs on Cultivating Ethics in China’s Emerging Talents. I was there as a spectator, and as my daughter (7 years) tells me how to do these events: You see, you think and you wonder.
Learning from each other
What I saw and heard: right from the start, the Panel Leader (Prof David W. Miller, a business ethics scholar from Princeton University) made it very clear that this debate and presentation was to learn from each other, not to preach. This is his philosophy and strategy in teaching business ethics, as I have met him before and we could agree that this was the best way in teaching business ethics as a westerner in non-western Countries (see my other blog entry in Sept 2013). And this would set the tone: Prof. Xiaojun Qian was part of the panel and described some of the challenges they had with colleagues in the University in dealing with a new regulations on gift receiving as professors and teachers: what was a good gift, what not? David Snow, the Country Manager of AstraZeneca was in the panel as well and told the audience that at his company they just changed their policy not to give any gifts at all, worldwide in the company, this including China of course.
Cultural sensitivity, Globalization
This raised the question of how that could be good business in China, where gift giving is so much part of doing business: it this the way to acclimatize in a Country? Here David Snow said something interesting: yes it seems that you would be cultural insensitive, but because there is such strong presence of internet and a globalization: now is the time to implement Global Standards across cultural borders, its more possible than ever. And I thought that he made a good point here, because internet (weibo, wechat in China) is strong, any mistake or perception of a mistake, even from a competitor in the field, has immediate effect on the whole industry. This also brought him to say that they are working in their Industry Association on new business ethics guidelines, to help get these issues resolved.
North Star, Anker, finding your balance
The final remarks on the panel were on where you get your balance from in ethical grey areas, how to you make good decisions? The CEOs from the two companies mentioned that they had a strong Anker, a ‘North Star’ as Prof. Miller put it, that would guide them in their decision making process. But I wondered at the end of the Debate how this whole session would be perceived by the 100 % Chinese Students from Tsinghua University: why were there only Western CEOs available to stick out their head and talk about business ethics in China, when this University, and the discussion about it, is already 30 years old? Are there no credible stories from Chinese business men and women? Do they not dare answer questions? These Questions are made for Universities to answer, as they are the place to research, reflect and wonder. I wish that Tsinghua University will do so the coming 30 years!…