A History of the Society for Business Ethics on its Twenty-fifth Anniversary
RICHARD T. DE GEORGE
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS
In August, 2005, in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Society for Business Ethics, the parent organization of the Business Ethics Quarterly, celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. The thirty-seven page glossy program featured the past presidents of the society. But many of the attendees and many more of the members of the Society know little about its history. As an early member and unofficial historian of the Society I was asked to prepare and present the Society’s history, based on available records and interviews with many of those who had a hand in forming and nurturing it through its early years.
There are many ways to do the history of the Society for Business Ethics. Of these I shall pursue only three. The first is the philosophical. The second is the chronological. The third is the projective.
In the philosophical approach we take a grand sweep of the history of our Society and see it in global, world historical terms. What is the Society’s place in history, seen from the perspective of as large a picture as you wish to paint: is it an insignificant speck or is its mark and its reach truly world historical and global? A more modest historian would put it in the former category—as would, I suppose, most people who have never heard of the Society for Business Ethics. But, for purposes of this history, I’d like to start with the big picture and paint on a broad scale.
Like all big paintings, one has to start somewhere, with the first brushstroke on a blank canvas. Yet with history the canvas is never blank. In the Hegelian view, the world spirit runs the show and we are just actors, or maybe even puppets, that bring about events. The same is true in the Marxist view, except the driving force is not spirit but economic conditions. On both views individuals tend to be less important than events. Consider Newton and Leibnitz. Both developed or invented the calculus at about the same time. The debate about priority is one that they thought important. But to us, it makes little difference. What is important is that the calculus was developed. That it was developed when it was developed shows that the conditions were ripe for its development. Mathematics had developed sufficiently that stumbling upon or coming up with the calculus seems almost like the next logical step; and the fact that both Newton and Leibnitz came up with it at the same time provides at least some reason to believe that if they had not done so, someone else sooner or later would have done so. We attach their names to its first appearance, but what is important is the calculus not the name of the first to bring it forward.
We can say the same, I suggest, about the Society for Business Ethics. The names of the people who had a hand in its founding and nourishment are to some extent unimportant. What is important is the Society, and if those who started it hadn’t done so, it is likely that others soon thereafter would have. For the time was ripe.
In fact the second half of the 1970s was a remarkable period for business ethics. In 1971 John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice had broken the stranglehold of meta-ethics in philosophy departments. Medical ethics had emerged in the 1960s and presented something of a model for business ethics to emulate. There was certainly something in the air, for a surprising number of individual, separate initiatives took place that very quickly coalesced and out of which the Society emerged.
November 1974, a date which Norman Bowie cites as the birth of business ethics, saw the first conference in business ethics which resulted from a conversation I had with the Dean of the University of Kansas Business School at lunch one day at which we both lamented the business scandals of the day. We published the papers in what was the first text in the area, Ethics Free Enterprise and Public Policy, and it appeared in 1978. The conference was evidently distinctive enough to catch the eye of NEH which called us up and asked us to present a grant proposal integrating business and the humanities. Under the grant I wrote a 91 page outline for a course in business ethics and made it available for free. To my surprise I received over 900 requests for it. About the same time, in 1977 Norman Bowie, who was then Executive Secretary of the American Philosophical Society began a three year project to draft guidelines for a courses in business ethics, which he also made available. Contemporaneously and independently, a number of people were working on texts, since so little was available for courses.
In 1979 three anthologies in business ethics appeared: Tom Beauchamp and Norman Bowie, Ethical Theory and Business; Thomas Donaldson and Patricia Werhane, Ethical Issues in Business: A Philosophical Approach; and Vincent Barry, Moral Issues in Business. In 1982 the first single-authored books in the field appeared: Richard De George, Business Ethics; and Manuel G. Velasquez, Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases. The books found a ready market and courses in business ethics both in philosophy departments and in schools of business developed rapidly. As they did the number of textbooks increased exponentially.
Social Issues in Management courses developed in the 1960s and were already in place in business schools. Why did we need business ethics courses and what was the difference between them? That is what a lot of people in business schools, in business, and in philosophy departments asked. Almost all the names I have mentioned so far were the names of philosophy teachers. What this group first individually and then collectively saw as lacking was ethics—which for them meant some grounding in ethical theory, some philosophical analysis of issues, and some structured way of discussing the ethical issues in business. This they found lacking in the social issues approach.
The marriage of business and ethics was like the marriage of Romeo and Juliet. The upstarts who were engaged in this endeavor in the late 1970s were generally not accepted as doing real philosophy by philosophy departments and colleagues, and business school faculty looked down on them as ignorant of and probably antagonistic to business. Although the activity was primarily by separate individuals, it is remarkable that somehow the individuals knew or met each other. Tom Donaldson had been at the University of Kansas as a graduate student in my department. Norm Bowie as Executive Secretary of the American Philosophical Association knew a number of the philosophers interested in the field. I had been a consultant to several business schools under an NEH program, and Mike Hoffman in 1976 had started and was the Director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College, with an annual conference. Tom Donaldson and Pat Werhane were colleagues, faced with teaching a business ethics course for which there was little material: hence their collaboration on material that became their book. Each also had contacts with a few others working in the area. There was truly something in the air, and the time was ripe. Although the Social Issues in Management Division had emerged in 1976 in the Academy of Management, that was not the venue those in philosophy sought. So the Society for Business Ethics appeared on the world scene in 1980.
The claim of a world historical event is not entirely hyperbole and self aggrandizement on behalf of the Society. Georges Enderle (from Switzerland) and Henk van Luik (from The Netherlands) had both attended meetings of the SBE and joined forces to start the European Ethics Network in 1987, which in tum encouraged the establishment of national societies for business ethics in nine countries in Europe. In 1988 Georges, Henk and I decided to start the International Society for Business, Economics and Ethics, which held its first organizational meeting in Columbus in 1992 and its first World Congress in Japan in 1996. In 1993 the Japan Society for Business Ethics (JABES) was started, and the 1996 World Congress led to the establishment of societies for business ethics in Latin America and to the Latin American Business Ethics Nerwork (ALENE) in 1997: to the Business Ethics Network of Africa in 2000, which includes members from 22 countries; to the Australian Business Ethics Network; and to societies for business ethics in India, in China and in other parts of the world. Nor is it simply a matter of post hoc ergo propter hoc, since we can trace the causal connections. These societies have each influenced the teaching of business ethics, the education of students in business education, and to some extent the continuing education of those engaged in the practice of business itself. The total influence of all of these on business is incalculable, but, even considered superficially, it is impressive. It is enough to make even Hegel proud. Nonetheless, even the world spirit needs its individual actors to do the work.
So how was the Society formed?
Here we leave philosophy and tum to chronology. The Romulus and Remus of the Society for Business Ethics are Thomas Donaldson, who was teaching at Loyola University in Chicago, and Michael Hoffman, who was Director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College. The written documents of the time—remember this is before email, before the photocopier (we are talking non-correcting typewriter, carbon paper, and ditto machines)—are not always as complete as a historian would like. The first known extant document that I could find is a letter from Tom Donaldson to me, dated July 6, 1978. It reads in part: “My reason for writing is to invite you to participate as a founding member in an organization for ‘professional ethics’ or ‘business ethics’ which is presently being developed. The idea for the organization grew from a series of discussions between Michael Hoffman (Director of the Center for Business Ethics) and myself; we envision the organization as meeting concurrently with the Eastem APA and as servicing the growing number of philosophers interested in professional ethics. As yet we are undecided about whether to use the rubric of ‘professional ethics’—thus making the scope broad—or ‘business ethics’—thus making it smaller. Perhaps you have a suggestion about this matter. Invitations to be founding members have also been extended to Norm Bowie and Tom Beauchamp.” So we five were to be the founding members.
We invited a small number of philosophers to meet at the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA) in December, 1978. in Washington, D.C., and sponsored a “Workshop on Issues, Courses, and Programs in Business and Professional Ethics.” The Panelists were Bowie, Donaldson, and Hoffman. The workshop was attended by 70 people. From that meeting emerged an Ad Hoc Steering Committee for a Society for Business-Professional Ethics. The Committee was made up of Kurt Baier, Tom Beauchamp, Norman Bowie, Richard De George, Thomas Donaldson, Kenneth Goodpaster, Michael Hoffman, Larry May, Mark Pastin, Michael Payne, and Patricia Werhane. All were philosophers. Some never entered the field of business ethics, some were sprinters in for a short run, and others who are still working in the field are marathon runners.
Mike Hoffman sent out a questionnaire in the spring and received 150 responses. In a letter of July 26, 1979 addressed to “Members of the Ad Hoc Steering Committee for a Society of Business-Professional Ethics,” Tom Donaldson reports that he and Mike Hoffman “were approached by another fledgling society, the Society for Professional Ethics, to see if we (and they) might be interested in merging forces.” It had had its first meeting at the same APA meeting in December 1978. Robert Baum was one of the organizers and was already publishing a Business and Professional Ethics Newsletter. So the society’s name and independence were still in doubt. Although I was on the Advisory Board of the Society for Professional Ethics, I voted for a separate organization. Most others voted similarly.
The next meeting took place in December 1979 at the APA meeting in New York. It was billed as “Business Ethics Workshop.” Mike Hoffman was Chair, Kenneth Goodpaster spoke on “Persons, Corporations and Ethics”, and Mark Pastin presented a response. At the Business meeting the group decided on the name “Society for Business Ethics,” and in January Tom Donaldson sent out letters inviting people to join the new Society and pay the annual dues of $5.00.
By April 7, 1980, the Society had 185 paid members. All dues paying members had received tentative Articles of Organization of the Society (drafted by Michael Payne) and a letter announcing that an election would take place by mail ballot, which said, “The Organizing Committee has expressed its interest in making the Society’s activities, including the presentation of papers and the official structuring of the Society, as open and democratic as possible.” I note in passing that the Loyola Philosophy Department at the time, which was generous in its support of the Society, was suffering from an acute outbreak of the virus ‘dateophobia’ that infected both Tom Donaldson and Pat Werhane, who as a result were unable to put dates on memos and newsletters for several years.
The first meeting of the Society for Business Ethics took place from 4:30-6:30 on April 25, 1980 in Detroit in conjunction with the Western Division of the APA. We received 20 paper submissions, and a blind review process led to Deborah Johnson (who like Tom Donaldson got her Ph.D. at KU) giving the first paper, commented on by James Swindler (also a KU Ph.D.); and A. Richard Konrad giving the second paper, commented on by James Wilbur. At the business meeting the Articles of Organization were revised into “By-Laws of the Society for Business Ethics.” Although the membership was “open to all those interested in and concerned with the area of Business Ethics” applications for membership had to be submitted to the Executive Committee, which had “the discretion to accept the proposal.” The officers of the Society were to be an Executive committee, composed of three members, serving for one year. The annual “regular meeting” was to be held in conjunction with a meeting of a national society. The By-Laws were ratified by mail ballot.
The second official meeting of the Society took place on December 28, 1980, at the Sheraton Boston Hotel in conjunction with the APA. This was the First Annual Conference, since a portion of it was a business meeting. George Brenkert gave the paper.
Who was the first President: George Washington, Tom Donaldson, Ken Goodpaster, Richard De George, Manny Velasquez or Leo Ryan? All except Washington have some claim to the title.
Tom Donaldson was the Director of the Organizing Committee. The first Newsletter (mimeoed, now faded and undated) included a ballot with 42 names on it. The Society, remember was democratic. Ballots had to be returned by October 3, 1980. The second Newsletter (also undated) announced the results: the first Executive Committee consisted of Richard De George, Thomas Donaldson and Patricia Werhane. That newsletter also announced the appearance of two new journals: Journal of Business Ethics, edited by Alex Michalos, and Business & Professional Ethics, edited by Robert Baum, Norman Bowie and Deborah Johnson.
Being a democratic institution, the three members of the Executive Committee had no titles, and we simply divided up the work. We quickly saw, however, what should have been obvious, that electing a new committee every year made little sense. So we proposed a change in the By-Laws to three year terms, which was adopted. In the interim, the Committee members served for two years. For 1981 we decided that Tom would be Chair, that Pat would be Secretary-Treasurer and would serve as Chair for 1982, and that I would be the third member. Our official stationary reflected these positions. A new election for two other members, one for a two year term and one for a three year term was called. The revised By-Laws said that “the person on the Executive Committee in his or her third year will serve as Chair.” This ballot contained only seven nominees. Ken Goodpaster was elected for a two year term and De George for a three year term. Obviously we couldn’t follow the By-Laws, so Goodpaster became Chair at the end of his second (and final) year, and De George, in accordance with the By-Laws for the first time, became chair in 1984. But none of us was President, since there was no such office. By February 1982 the Society had over 350 members. The Society met regularly with all three divisions of the American Philosophical Association: the Eastern in December, the Pacific in early April and the Western (later renamed the Central) in late April or early May. The following year, from a slate of 14 names, Donaldson was elected to a three year term.
In July of 1983 with over 500 members the Society cosponsored with DePaul University a Workshop and Conference on Business Ethics. That summer meeting, which was not an official meeting of the Society, was to have many unforeseen consequences.
In a letter from Pat Werhane to Tom Donaldson, dated July 31, 1983, Werhane suggests repeating the summer meeting in 1984, and further suggests “the then-president of the society (Richard) should present the first paper.” This is the first use of the term “president” in the records, and officially the Society still had no such title. Werhane’s letter also included a suggestion from Eugene Arthur, S.J., from Rockhurst College in Kansas City, who had attended the workshop, that the Society meet with the Academy of Management. A letter from Ken Goodpaster, Chair of the Executive Committee, to Werhane in August 1983 says, “I agree with the Academy of Management joint efforts and will be happy to follow-up on this with Richard if he has contacts.” I was a member of the Academy but had no contacts, even though
I agreed to pursue the matter. Little did any of us know what that contact would turn out to mean.
In February 1984 Tom sent me a copy (people now had photocopiers) of a letter he had received from Patrick Keleher, Manager of College Relations at Illinois Bell. The letter begins “I see the business ethics movement in 1984 as an experimental aircraft climbing and straining for altitude attainable only if the test pilot kicks in a powerful afterburner. Without that extra thrust, the outcome is predictable: plateau, stall, perhaps even tailspin. The afterburner is corporate involvement in the movement.” Patrick Keleher, an SBE member, volunteered to “start making something happen along these lines” among businesses in Chicago. Interestingly, the records contain no follow-up letter. Obviously the Society hasn’t stalled, or entered a tailspin. But it has reached out to business in a variety of ways. Elmer Johnson, General Counsel of General Motors, was invited to be on the program for the 1984 summer workshop, and accepted. De George was his respondent.
On April3, 1984, Manuel Velasquez was elected to a three year term on the Executive Committee. Within a month of the election he had agreed to take over the duties as Secretary, handling the newsletter and general correspondence. The dues continued to be sent to Werhane and Donaldson at Loyola, who served jointly as Treasurer. Velasquez, who had caught the dateophobia virus, continued the tradition of not dating the Newsletter. The transition was not very smooth and it took a long time for the office to be transferred. In the shuffle no election was held and the Executive Committee served two years.
The Society was now meeting four times a year with each of three APA meetings and a sunm1er meeting in Chicago. Tom Donaldson and Ian Maitland agreed to coordinate joint announcements in the publications of the SBE and the Social Issues in Management division of the Academy. In January 1986 Norman Bowie was elected to the Executive Committee, replacing Richard De George. That Spring Manny sent the Spring 1986 SBE Newsletter to all SIM members, including an invitation to join, dangling before them the Society’s unbelievable bargain $5.00 annual dues.
The Society met with the Central Division of the APA in Saint Louis, and with the Eastern Division in Boston in December. It also met in August of 1986 for its then annual Chicago Conference on Business Ethics, this time, for the first time, in conjunction with the meeting of the Social Issues in Management (SIM) Division of the Academy of Management, which was also meeting in Chicago. SIM members chaired three sessions and made six presentations. The meeting was well received. Despite the fact that the October 1986 Newsletter reported that the summer conference in conjunction with the Academy had been “beneficial” and although “everyone agreed that similar cooperative efforts should be supported in the future whenever possible,” the Executive Committee decided not to meet the following year with the Academy in New Orleans but to meet again in Chicago because of the support provided by DePaul and Loyola.
In 1987 Mike Hoffman was elected to replace Tom Donaldson on the Executive Committee.
In October 1987 desktop publishing finally hit the SBE and the Newsletter took on a somewhat professional look for the first time,and for the first time was no longer mimeographed. The results of the election reported in March 1988 broke a pattern as William Frederick was elected to replace Manny Velasquez. Frederick was the first non-philosopher to be elected to the Executive Committee. The camel had stuck its nose under the tent, and things would never again be the same.
In 1988 the SBE’s annual Chicago conference did not take place and instead the SBE and the Institute for Business Ethics of DePaul University co-sponsored a conference on business ethics on August 5-6, 1988 in Anaheim, California, just prior to the meeting of the Academy of Management. This was not the Annual Conference of the Society. That took place in December with the APA. Nonetheless, the Anaheim meeting drew fifty people, including a number of SIM members who attended and joined the Society. For the first time we had a Society banquet and for the first time we had a presentation called the Presidential Address, given by Manny Velasquez, even though Manny was no longer on the Executive Committee, even though the Society had no office of President, and even though this wasn’t the annual conference of the Society. The tradition of the Chair of the Executive Committee giving the Presidential Address in the year following the expiration of his term was thus introduced. Letters between Norman and Mike Hoffman indicate that the Executive Committee is still uncertain about having a summer meeting in conjunction with the Academy. Although Norman says his term, in accordance with the Bylaws, ends December 31, 1988, Mike wants him to give the Presidential Address in 1989 as the outgoing President. He is included in the Executive Committee; as is the newly elected member, Lisa Newton.
The By-Laws, which were not often referred to, specified that “The regular meetings of the Society shall be held in conjunction with the meeting of a National Society, and be as convenient as possible for members to attend.” Section 1 of Article 4 said that “At a regular meeting of the Society a Nominating Committee of three members shall be appointed by the Society.” Section 2 of Article IV said that “The officers shall be elected by ballot, and their terms of office shall begin at the close of the first regular meeting following their election.” Following the rules, the nominating committee used to make its report at the December meeting, and ballots were sent out early in the year. The results were announced in the Spring Newsletter. But when did they take office? Officially they should have to wait until the end of the December meeting of the year in which they were elected. But this made little sense. So they in fact, though illegally, took their positions upon election. This led to some confusion. In July 1988 Norm Bowie tried to remedy the situation by asking for nominations in the September Newsletter, sending out ballots in late November, and having people begin their term on January 1. A good idea, even if it ignored the By-Law provision of making nominations at the regular meeting of the Society.
In August Pat Werhane wrote the Executive Committee and Tom Donaldson and Richard De George. The second sentence reads: “One of the problems with the Society, perhaps its major one, is that we are too democratic.” Lest that be misinterpreted, she goes on to suggest that the Society have “an Executive Director, appointed for 5 years, who collects dues, sends out the newsletter, and sees that someone organizes the conference. This procedure would simplify our complicated financial arrangements, the newsletter, and our so-called files.” All those responding to a memo from Norm Bowie supported the idea of an Executive Director and nominated the obvious candidate, Pat Werhane, for the job. She was elected unanimously by the Executive Committee, so perhaps the Society had begun to be a little less democratic.
The Apri1 1989 Newsletter says, “The Annual Society for Business Ethics Conference will be held August 11-12, 1989, in Washington, D.C., just prior to the Academy of Management meeting.” The Newsletter describes the Annual Conference in Washington with the Academy as the “most successful ever.” Norm Bowie gave the Presidential Address. Despite this, however, the official annual conference, which includes a business meeting, was still held at the session of the SBE with the APA in December. As if it were standard practice, the Newsletter announces the Annual meeting of the Society in August preceding the Academy meeting.
In 1989 the dues increased to $40.00. Only about 100 of the Society’s more than 500 members paid on time. The increase was due to the Society’s starting a new journal, and the dues included a subscription to the journal. The dues were for 1989/90 (instead of for the calendar year as previously), and the ballot for a new member of the Executive committee goes out in January, with a return date of March 1, despite the procedure stated in the By-laws. In the January 1990 Newsletter, the new President (now so called routinely, despite the lack of any such office in the By- Laws) calls for volunteers for a committee to rethink the Society’s organizational structure.
On March 1 the members were informed that the Executive Committee had appointed Pat Werhane as Editor of the new journal of the Society, to be called Business Ethics Quarterly. Jennifer Moore was elected to replace Mike Hoffman. The Annual Conference was announced for San Francisco, August 7-9. The Following March Brother Leo Ryan was elected to replace Bill Frederick. The Annual Conference is held in August in Miami Beach, and this time includes a business meeting. The Presidential Address was given by Bill Frederick, noted as “Past President” of the Society. The SBE meeting with the APA in December continues, but by now definitely is no longer the Annual meeting. Nonetheless, Pat Werhane in a letter to “Interested Parties,” dated April 2, 1992, notes: “Future of the Conferences in conjunction with the Academy of Management: It was suggested that the Society meet alternately with the Academy and Bentley College’s Conference or with some other relevant society. Werhane will survey the membership (again) for input on this suggestion.” A memo with the same date from Lisa Newton concerning the newly established Association of Ethics Officers notes that “These officers have asked what ethics background they should have for their jobs, and expressed interest in obtaining it.” The Committee came up with some recommendations, but the project became moot as Bentley College stepped in to fill the AEO’s needs.
On April l9, 1992, Pat identified herself in a memo as “Retiring Executive Director” to be replaced by Ron Duska as of August 15,1992, and she circulated a proposed set of revised By-Laws for the Society. As my story indicates, they were badly needed. The new bylaws increased the Executive Committee to six, to include the past president, the Executive Director and the Editor-in-chief of BEQ; and specified that the senior Executive Committee member will serve as President. They still specify the terms of office of members of the Executive Committee beginning January 1 following their election. Although the changes were adopted, the next Newsletter only lists five members of the Executive Committee, and does not include the past President. Ed Freeman was the newly elected member to replace Lisa Newton, but he is listed in November although he does not officially take office until January 1. So the Society did not follow the new Bylaws any better than it did the old.
Under Duska the Newsletter took on its present professional format and increased its coverage of announcements, conferences, books, calls for papers, videos, teaching tools, and other news in the area of business ethics.
At the 1993 meeting in Atlanta, Jennifer Moore gave the Presidential Address, and Leo Ryan, the Chair of the Executive Committee was the first constitutionally authorized President of the Society. So take your pick as to who was the first president of the Society.
When is the annual conference?
As one can see from the previous narrative, it was originally in December with the APA, then unofficially moved to the summer, usually before the Academy of Management. To this day the By-Laws continue to say that the annual conference is set by the Executive Committee.
The November 1993 Newsletter says “It is time to vote for a new member of the Executive Committee who will begin serving in the summer of 1994.” Ryan wrote De George asking for a summary of the history of the Society—an abbreviated version of which was published in the Newsletter. Tom Dunfee was elected to take Jennifer Moore’s place, and as usual did not wait until January l and assumed the position as of the Annual Conference. Pat Werhane moved to the University of Virginia, but the journal stayed at Loyola, as did Al Gini, the Managing Editor. Laura Nash was elected to the Executive Committee in 1994.
In August 1994 Leo Ryan delivered the Presidential Address in Dallas, the year in which Ed Freeman was President. At that meeting the SBE held joint sessions with the Social Issues in Management of the Academy of Management. Laura Nash was elected to the Executive Committee. Richard De George was appointed as the SBE historian. At the Executive Committee meeting there was animated discussion of the SBE’s meeting with groups other than the Academy, and in good democratic fashion, the matter was sent for resolution by mail ballot. Fewer than ten ballots were returned.
John Boatright was elected to replace Leo Ryan. In 1995 the Society followed the Academy of Management to Vancouver for its Annual Conference. Not to be forgotten were the continuing meetings of the SBE at the Eastern and often at other divisions of the American Philosophical Association. The incoming president, Tom Dunfee, noted that the Society’s membership was now up to 700 members, and that the Society was meeting with other organizations—the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics; the International Society for Business, Economics and Ethics; the European Business Ethics Network; and the APA.
For 1996 the Academy of Management had to do without the SBE, which met with the Academy of Legal Studies in Quebec City. Dunfee also established a rather large Advisory Committee to review SBE activities, policies and structures. Archie Carroll won in a run-off election to become the new member on the Executive Committee. The next year George Brenkert was elected to the Committee, as Tom Dunfee left.
The Society in 1997 entered the Internet world with a Web site developed by Mark Schneider. In May 1997 Ron Duska turned over the duties of Newsletter editor to Joe DesJardins. The May Newsletter carried a set of proposed amendments to the By-Laws, some of which enabled the Society to be officially recognized as a 501-3C not for profit organization. The Society gained that stature. Laura Nash gave the Presidential Address at the Boston meeting. Ron Duska in the September Newsletter announced that membership in the Society had increased to over 1000. That same Newsletter says that the annual conference “is a time of transition for the officers of the Society,” despite what the By-laws say to the contrary. In 1998 the first Membership Directory appeared, listing about 800 names.
John Dienhart was elected to replace Laura Nash. In 1998 John Boatright gave the Presidential address raising the question “Does Business Ethics Rest on a Mistake?” His affirmative answer did not lead to dismantling the Society. The Newsletter says that the changing of the guard took place, and Archie Carroll replaced Boatright as president. So informally the term of office is again ambiguous. The new board member is announced in the spring and officially added to the roster, but the offices change over in August. Laura Hartman was elected to the Executive Committee, replacing John Boatright. In February 1999 dues collection and membership data processing for the Society was outsourced to the Philosophy Documentation Center. The 1999 meeting in Chicago drew over 150 members. George Brenkert replaced Carroll as President. Brenkert was also appointed the new Editor of the BEQ, as of June 1, 2000, replacing Pat who served in that position for ten years. AI Gini stayed on as Associate Editor. Dues increased from $40 to $50. Although the October Newsletter carried the Minutes of the Business Meeting, the members had not received minutes of the Executive Committee meeting for some time.
January 2000 brought a new millennium and also a new Executive Director, as John Boatright replaced Ron Duska. By February Boatright had redesigned the SBE website and set about streamlining and improving the Society’s finances. After all, he was the author of Ethics in Finance.
Daryl Koehn was elected to the Executive Committee. At the annual conference in Toronto George Brenkert gave his Presidential Address. At the Business Meeting the Society adopted John Boatright’s proposal that the Society incorporate and by the fall he had succeeded in completing the process. The Society also adopted new By-Laws. Among the changes, the term of office was increased from four to five years, and a nominating committee was instituted. The Society’s paid individual membership had dropped to 506 in 1999, but there were 383 institutional members—so the total was still 889. Edwin Hartman was named chair of a committee to increase members’ attendance at the annual conference. He did an excellent job because attendance at the 2001 meeting was the largest ever—174.
Donna Wood joined the Executive Committee (now called the Board of Directors) in 2002, replacing Archie Carroll, the first member to serve five years under the new By-Laws. John Dienhart’s presidential address in Washington, D.C., was especially noteworthy for its title, “Who Are Our Hairdressers?” The Spring 2002 Newsletter carried the Profit and Loss Statement for the Society for 2001 and revealed that somehow the Society had eye-popping total cash assets of $75,665.66. Dennis Moberg was elected to the Board. Laura Hartman gave the Presidential address in Denver.
In 2002 the SBE gained, through the good offices of Laura Hartman, an SBE list server. In 2003 the Society also added a media guide so the media could contact members, and a communications and marketing director. Ed Hartman was elected to the Board and began his term in August 2003. The annual conference took place in Seattle. Daryl Koehn gave the Presidential Address. The Board appointed Denis Arnold as SBE liaison with the APA, and he actively set up programs at the three APA division meetings. The Society’s early roots had not been forgotten.
In 2004 Richard Nielsen was elected to the Board replacing Laura Hartman. At the New Orleans meeting Dennis Moberg became president. But the Board decided that the president would give his address in the fourth year of his five year term, rather than in the third year. So Moberg lost his opportunity to speak at the luncheon in Hawaii and was slated to speak at the luncheon in Philadelphia instead. Hence, the luncheon opening was filled by De George, who presented a history of the Society.
At the end of 2004 John Boatright stepped down as Executive Director, leaving the Society with 576 individual members and 414 institutional members, for a total of 990. He left the society as an incorporated entity with assets in excess of $92,000.
Joseph DesJardins agreed to take on the job of Executive Director as of January 1, 2005. Gina Wolfe took over as editor of the Newsletter, Bob Solomon replaced Daryl Koehn on the Board, and George Brenkert announced that Gary Weaver would replace him as Editor-in-Chief of the BEQ.
What of the future?
Business ethics is well entrenched in ordinary discourse and the media, has been sanctioned and promoted by legislation, and has been incorporated into corporate structures. The Society has developed over twenty-five years and changed. Philosophers and historians are not prophets or seers. So I cannot see into the future of the Society. But in pursuing projective history we can see what is already present and pregnant with the future. Of the many possible scenarios. I shall briefly consider only two.
The first takes off from the splendid success of the past twenty-five years. In the coming year, through the persistent efforts of Denis Arnold, the Society will sponsor sessions on the main American Philosophical Association programs at the Eastern and Pacific meetings, and the following year at the Central Division as well. This indicates at long last acceptance by the APA of business ethics. That achievement comes, ironically, as the Society’s membership is no longer dominated by philosophers. Also, because a business ethics session is on the main program it perhaps means that for the first time in twenty-five years, the Society will not have a Society meeting at the APA. How long will the Society continue to meet with the APA since so few of Society members attend those meetings and, since, because—they are neither the annual nor special meetings—they are, according to the Society’s By-laws, no longer official Society meetings?
At the same time, the Society has also been successful in joining forces with those in Social Issues in Management. More and more members seem to make no distinction between business ethics and social issues in management. The meeting with the Academy seems less and less in doubt each year, even though the 2005 meeting with the Academy in Hawaii was put to a vote of the members. The SIM meetings coincide more and more with those of the Society for Business Ethics—whether they be doctoral consortia on Fridays and Saturdays or joint meetings on Sundays. The success of the Society on both the APA and the Academy fronts may paradoxically threaten its future as it is assimilated into the mainstream of both. Has the World Spirit used the Society for the purpose of spreading business ethics societies around the globe only in the not too distant future to consign it to the dustbin of history, its mission having been accomplished?
A second scenario is that as the Society looks back at its roots and early history, it decides that it continues to have something important and distinctive to offer; that the philosophical approach, with its emphasis on theoretical ethical structure, on a critical approach to issues in business, and on the rigor in argument that philosophers have developed, is worth preserving; and that the imagination and intellectual courage that led the founders to start a new society is an example that continues to deserve emulation, especially as the Society confronts the new developments in the 21st century’s business environment. In that scenario, the Society has not run its course or served its function in history, but still has much to do.
Many other scenarios are possible.
I suggest it has been an exciting and impressive twenty five years. As to the future, despite my Hegelian references, I conclude,as Leo Ryan did at the end his Presidential Address, that the future of the Society is in the hands of its members and its leaders.