Lorenzo Patelli, associate professor of accounting, reflects on his new role as interim director of the Daniels College of Business’ Institute for Enterprise Ethics, and shares his vision for the future of this ethics-based, community-focused organization:
First, give us a brief history/overview of the Institute:
Dan Sweeney, the Institute’s former director, was a passionate and tireless leader of the program for almost 10 years (The Institute was established in 2009 and Patelli took over as interim director in Oct. 2018). Dan was able to gather an outstanding group of friends and champions who are ambassadors of ethics, loyal participants at our events and generous supporters.
The purpose of the Institute is to help individuals nurture an organizational and professional culture consistent with high standards of ethics, leadership, governance and social responsibility. The Institute strives to achieve this by engaging students to strengthen education in ethical leadership skills; promoting and sharing impactful academic research to advance knowledge; and providing opportunities of dialogue among professionals to share experiences. The goal is to contribute to the vision of the University of Denver, which aims to be a great private university dedicated to the public good.
Why do you have a passion for ethics? What drew you to lead Daniels’ Institute for Enterprise Ethics?
My research activity has helped me discover the importance of ethics in business. I have always been interested in how people make decisions and especially how organizational mechanisms (e.g., performance metrics) affect decision making. Ethics determines the individual’s definition of what is good and what is bad, and such a definition shapes the most crucial decisions at both personal and social levels.
My background is in accounting, which is a discipline intrinsically connected with ethics at so many levels. I have been blessed with colleagues and co-authors who directed my attention to research topics associated with ethics like corporate governance, stakeholder engagement and tone at the top, and I’ve met so many inspiring business professionals with a profound—and infectious—passion for ethical leadership.
Shortly after I joined DU in 2011, I was asked to lead a roundtable discussion for the Institute titled, “Short-termism and Behavioral Ethics.” In my opening remarks, I shared a story about two construction workers who were building a beautiful cathedral, the Duomo of Milan. When asked what they were doing, one worker said, “I am piling up bricks,” while the other replied, “I am building a Cathedral.” While the former worker was narrowly focused on short-term results and blind to the ultimate goal, the latter worker was empowered by his contribution to the ultimate goal, so much so that the definition of his job coincided with it. As interim director of the Institute, I aspire to do just that. I will work to disseminate a long-lasting culture of professional and corporate ethics through thought-provoking programs for students, academic researchers and the business community.
What can long-time members of the Institute expect under your leadership? What are you hoping to change? What will stay the same?
Our mission is sound and is not going to change. Long-time friends and champions of the Institute should expect to see the Institute grow in two directions. First, we plan to expand the program offerings to emphasize professional ethics in addition to corporate ethics.
Second, we plan on directing more attention to a wider array of audiences, including young professionals and students.
I am excited because the growth in these two directions will mean more involvement from faculty from different disciplines and a more impactful role in both research and practice for the Institute.
What role do ethics play in today’s world, inside and outside business? How has that role changed over time?
I am not sure whether the role of ethics has fundamentally changed over time but there is definitely a deeper awareness of ethics in professional and corporate culture. Even in academic research, there is growing attention to managerial characteristics—like ethical leadership—and to factors inherent to the person who fundamentally shapes decisions, actions and related outcomes.
I also firmly believe that the rapid and massive evolution of technology and the related change of how we think, interact and work, calls for a discovery not so much of what machines can and cannot do but rather a discovery of what makes us truly and uniquely human. There is a great deal of concern in society about the risk of neglecting ethics in the design and usage of technology.
Why is ethics important to the Daniels College of Business?
The Daniels College of Business exists because of the vision and generosity of Bill Daniels, who distinguished himself in the business world for his profound commitment to ethical leadership. My personal decision to join Daniels in 2011 was partially due to the College’s emphasis on business ethics education, which is manifested in actual curriculum choices, budgetary decisions and organizational structures. The Institute is an invaluable asset for Daniels and the University. The friends and champions of the Institute have demonstrated through their loyal engagement that in order to stay relevant, Daniels and DU must provide education opportunities in ethics to students and support research in ethics for faculty.
What are some upcoming events you’d like to highlight?
We have three upcoming roundtable discussions scheduled before the summer. The next one is Feb. 7 and will be led by John A. Francis, attorney of counsel at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, on the topic of “The Evolution and Future Direction of the Ethics and Compliance Function and Profession.”
Later this year, our annual Elevate Ethics dialogue will focus on the ethical challenges of artificial intelligence. We are very excited and will announce the date and panelists soon.
We are also designing a program for young professionals focused on decision making, diversity management and ethical leadership. For more information about our programs and upcoming events, please contact Program Coordinator Ashley Mercer at Ashley.Mercer@du.edu.