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The Business of Leadership and Ethics
The Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics, founded in May 2003, is the umbrella for all activities on leadership and ethics at Columbia Business School.
The Center was made possible by a generous gift from the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Foundation. The foundation's parent, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., was established in 1967 by the late Sanford Bernstein, a paragon of the highest standards of his profession.
An investment manager, Bernstein opened the first securities firm dedicated to providing families and individuals with professional money-management services. As the mission grew to include investment research and institutional asset management, the firm flourished while emphasizing the highest ethical and professional standards.
This exemplary standard of quality and ethics has endured, and today Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. is part of AllianceBernstein L.P., one of the most respected firms on Wall Street. Both names symbolize excellence, trustworthiness, discipline, independence and objectivity.
The mission of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics is to be a globally recognized locus for the promotion of ethics in the curriculum of business schools and the development of innovative cases and research on ethics, leadership and governance. The Center engages students, faculty and the outside community through a variety of endowed speaker series and through broad consultation to integrate ethics into the core classes taught to all MBA and EMBA students at Columbia. Through the creation of new teaching material and the funding of research, the Center provides students with frameworks and tools to think critically about ethical conflicts and tradeoffs in order that they will be better prepared for their future careers.
The Center's activities, including the Individual, Business, and Society curriculum, focus on three broad themes:
Corporate Governance: Governance is ultimately about fairness and the processes and systems by which a corporation is directed to achieve this outcome. The study and teaching of governance include the workings and organizational dynamics of boards of directors and the distribution of rights and responsibilities among auditors, boards, executives, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders in specific national and industrial contexts. Topics include the role of boards in public corporations, the challenges of governance in partnerships and venture capital contracts and in varied national contexts, the responsibilities of senior executive decision-making processes, transparency and reporting, executive compensation and strategic risk management and the impact of ethics and corruption on social welfare and economic development;
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): the integration by companies of their social and environmental concerns in their business strategies and operations and in their interaction with stakeholders. Topics include the social and environmental impact of business operations, business conducted in emerging markets, corruption, society's expectations of business and business leaders and the relationship between stakeholders and shareholder value. Above all, the study of CSR has shifted from the question of whether a firm should do this to how can socially responsible strategies be designed to be most effective; and
Values-Based Leadership: the relationship between the individual's values and the firm. Topics include the engagement of individuals in actively promoting and protecting integrity in the workplace, values-based leadership, corporate crime and the difficulty of blowing the whistle, the importance of recognizing the moment of ethical choice and avoiding the "slippery slope."
These themes are interrelated. Responsible corporate governance and corporate conduct ultimately rely on the integrity of managers and boards. Creating an organization that promotes and protects individual integrity is a corporate responsibility. Balancing the sometimes competing interests of shareholders and other stakeholders raises questions of corporate governance.
Research Insights on Leadership and Ethics
Assistant Professor of Finance and Economics
"Banks in India...the accounts are not well used...This may be because they have to walk the 3km to the bank; or it may be due to other obstacles, such as procrastination.”
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Jack R. Anderson Professor of Business
"The industry has developed general principles on which portfolio risk should be decomposed but actually determining the risk contributions can be difficult in complex portfolios.”
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Senior Vice Dean and Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics
"Those in a homogeneous group put much less effort into the task at hand in part because they were more interested in avoiding conflict. Diverse environments allowed people to focus on the task instead of their social relationship."
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Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics
"If a firm already has one woman in a top management position, then the odds that another woman will also have a top position is lower. It’s as if women are over-distributed among firms, or spread out more evenly than chance alone would dictate.”
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