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Inaugural Lecture Features WSJ Columnist

10/19/2015

View a video of the full remarks by Mr. McGurn.
See a transcript of Mr. McGurn's remarks published in the December issue of the journal Vital Issues of the Day.



New Rochelle, N.Y. -- William McGurn, Wall Street Journal columnist and former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, told an audience of Iona business students that despite the proliferation of business ethics courses, “strong business ethics cannot be had without strong personal character.”

McGurn delivered the first talk in a new lecture series, Advancing Ethical and Moral Leadership, sponsored by the College’s Hagan School of Business. The goal of the series is to offer practical examples of ethical leadership for young people and those in the working world.

McGurn, who writes the Main Street column and editorials at The Wall Street Journal, said an increase in courses “doesn’t seem to be producing more ethical business leaders.”  

One of the main reasons for the problem is “relativism” and an inability to distinguish right from wrong, McGurn said. “All too often, students come out believing that it’s all subjective.”

He added that he is suspicious of “profession-based ethics,” whether in business, law, journalism or medicine because too often they are implemented as sort of a “regulatory code separate from character,” and professionals are led to believe that if they check off appropriate boxes, they have fulfilled ethical requirements.

“You cannot have business ethics without ethical businessmen,” McGurn said. “The more we try to substitute regulation for character, the further we get from the goal.”

McGurn said that issues of right and wrong are not difficult to discern and cited the cases of Bernie Madoff deceiving his investors and the dean of the Stanford Business School having an affair with a married subordinate.

Business students, he added, would do well to reflect on the West Point honor code, which says, “A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.”

He told the students, “What you do in your business life will affect many around you. And when the hard decisions come -- for example, firing a person who just isn’t up to the job -- those whose lives are most affected by your decisions are not going to ask how many business ethics courses you took. They will want to know whether you are an honest person who treats others fairly and does not hide behind evasions.”

“For 75 years, Iona College has committed its energies and resources to the development of graduates recognized for their ethics,” said Iona President Joseph E. Nyre. “Every person, every family, and the people in every business, institution, municipality or government agency will eventually have their moral and ethical compass shaken and tested. The measure of leadership, or one’s life for that matter, is not the tally of problems or their severity but rather how we respond.”

McGurn spent more than a decade overseas -- in Brussels for The Wall Street Journal/Europe and in Hong Kong with both the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. In the mid-1990s, McGurn was Washington Bureau Chief for National Review.

He is the author of a book on Hong Kong titled Perfidious Albion and a monograph on terrorism, “Terrorist or Freedom Fighter.” He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Notre Dame and a master’s in communications from Boston University.  

Founded in 1940 and celebrating its 75th anniversary throughout 2015, Iona College is a private coeducational institution 20 miles north of Midtown Manhattan with a total enrollment of more than 3,900 students and an alumni base of 40,000-plus across the world. The College is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona’s Hagan School of Business is accredited by AACSB International – a highly acclaimed distinction awarded to just 30 percent of business schools worldwide. In late 2014, PayScale ranked the MBA program in the Hagan School as a national top 50 program for return on investment.

For more information on the lecture series, see Iona Launches Series on Ethical and Moral Leadership.

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