Ask More of Business

Asking More Commentary: Perspectives from Mendoza College of Business

Commentary Post - Carolyn Y. Woo

Notre Dame Forum: Business is vital to societal good

September 16, 2010

The 2010 Notre Dame Global Forum is a yearlong event that explores the theme of the global marketplace and the common good. In this reflection, Dean Carolyn Woo describes a central theme: Business can be a force for social good if driven by values-based leadership. For more information about the ND Forum, visit forum.nd.edu.

Business, despite the scrutiny in the press and the caricatures in films and on television, is not a necessary evil. Business is a necessary good.

When business does the right thing, society benefits. Business creates jobs, and jobs give people dignity; a venue for expressing themselves and their talents; and opportunities to hone their skills. Meaningful employment is necessary for independence and security, the ingredients for self-esteem and dignity. And in this country, health care and retirement benefits primarily come through employment. In addition, business provides solutions that can improve the quality of life. It enables human ingenuity, creativity and innovation to become tangible outcomes that are part of the co-creation to which God invites us. Business allows for exchange and the flow of resources from one party to another, without which we would not be a real community.

Business does not always behave that way, however, and it can do great harm as well as good. Pope Benedict reminds us in Caritas in Veritate that the market “cannot rely only on itself, because it is not able to produce by itself something that lies outside its competence. It must draw its moral energies from other subjects that are capable of generating them.”

Once we understand the good and bad that business can do, then we understand the role of business education in developing competent and ethical leaders. We must engage our students to approach business as a vocation. And for it to be a true vocation, it has to create value for society.

Business education goes beyond developing managerial skills or analytical capabilities, to inspiring our students to bring about good for society through business and markets. We believe that for business to be a positive force, it needs to focus on three elements: the integrity of the individual, the ability to create an ethical organizational environment, and the achievement of profits in a way that protects and enhances society.