A chronological survey of our rich history

Not surprisingly, our history provides a record of the birth and development of the profession of business ethics. It also provides interesting and humorous insights into the men and women who have been instrumental in shaping the Society as we know it today.

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July 1978

  • Tom Donaldson composes the first known extant document of the society—a letter inviting Richard T. De George “to participate as a founding member in an organization for ‘professional ethics’ or ‘business ethics’ which is presently being developed.”

December 1978

  • A small number of philosophers meet at the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA) in Washington. D.C. and sponsor a “Workshop on Issues, Courses, and Programs in Business and Professional Ethics.”

December 1979

  • Meeting, billed as “Business Ethics Workshop,” takes place at the APA in New York.
  • Mike Hoffman is Chair, Kenneth Goodpaster speaks on “Persons, Corporations and Ethics,” and Mark Pastin presents a response.
  • The group decides on the name “Society for Business Ethics.”

January 1980

  • Tom Donaldson sends out letters inviting people to join the new Society and pay annual dues of $5.00.

April 1980

  • By April7, 1980, the Society had 185 paid members.
  • The first meeting of the SBE takes place from 4:30-6:30 on April25, 1980 in Detroit in conjunction with the Western Division of the APA.
  • The Society receives 20 paper submissions.
  • Deborah Johnson gives the first paper and A. Richard Konrad gives the second paper.
  • The Articles of Organization are revised into “By-Laws of the Society for Business Ethics.”

October 1980

  • Ballots for the election of the Executive Committee, which were issued in the first Newsletter, are returned on October 3, 1980.
  • The elected Executive Committee consists of Richard De George, Thomas Donaldson and Patricia Werhane.
  • The second Newsletter announces 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.

December 1980

  • The second official meeting of the Society takes place at the Sheraton Boston Hotel in conjunction with the APA.
  • The meeting is the First Annual Meeting, since a portion of it is a business meeting.
  • Tom Donaldson appointed Chair for 1981; Pat Werhane, Secretary-Treasurer, who will serve as Chair for 1982; Richard De George, the third member.
  • Ken Goodpaster is elected for a two year term and De George for a three year term.

February 1982

  • Kenneth Goodpaster becomes Chair at the end of his second (and final) year.
  • The Society has over 350 members.

July 1983

  • With over 500 members, SBE cosponsors with DePaul University a Workshop and Conference on Business Ethics.
  • Pat Werhane addresses a letter, dated July 31, 1983, to Tom Donaldson, suggesting the repetition of the summer meeting in 1984 and that “the then-president of the society (Richard De George) should present the first paper.”
  • This is the first use of the term “president” in the records, and officially the Society has no such title.

February 1984

  • Donaldson receives letter from Patrick Keleher reading “I see the business ethics movement as an experimental aircraft climbing and straining for altitude attainable only if the test pilot kicks in a powerful afterburner. … The afterburner is corporate involvement in the movement.”
  • Keheler volunteers to “start making something happen along these lines” among businesses in Chicago.
  • Elmer Johnson, General Counsel of General Motors, is invited to be on the program for the 1984 summer workshop, and accepts.

April 1984

  • Manuel Velasquez is elected to a three year term on the Executive Committee.
  • The Society is now meeting four times a year—with each of three APA meetings and a summer meeting in Chicago.

January 1986

  • Norman Bowie is elected to the Executive Committee, replacing Richard De George.

Spring 1986

  • Manny sends 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.

August 1986

  • The Society meets 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.

October 1987

  • Desktop publishing finally hits the SBE and the Newsletter takes on a somewhat professional look for the first time, and for the first time is no longer mimeographed.

March 1988

  • The results of the election report a break a pattern as William Frederick is elected to replace Manny Velasquez.
  • Frederick is 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.

August 1988

  • Pat Werhane suggests the Society have “an Executive Director, appointed for 5 years.”
  • Pat is nominated and elected for the position unanimously by the Executive Committee.
  • SBE and the Institute for Business Ethics cosponsor a conference on business ethics on August 5-6, 1988 in Anaheim, California.
  • The conference draws 50 attendants, including a number of SIM members who join the Society.
  • The Society has its first banquet and Presidential Address.

December 1988

  • The Annual Conference takes place in December with the APA.

August 1989

  • The Annual Society for Business Ethics Conference is held August 11-12, 1989, in Washington, D.C., just prior to the Academy of Management meeting.
  • The Newsletter describes the conference as the “most successful ever.”

September 1989

  • Dues increase to $40.00.
  • Only about 100 of the Society’s more than 500 members pay on time.
  • The increase is due to the Society’s starting a new journal, and the dues include a subscription to the journal.

January 1990

  • In the January 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.

March 1990

  • Members are informed that the Executive Committee has appointed Pat Werhane as Editor of the new journal of the Society, to be called Business Ethics Quarterly.

August 1990

  • The Annual Conference is held in San Francisco.

August 1991

  • The Annual Conference is held in August in Miami Beach, and this time includes a business meeting.

December 1991

  • The SBE meeting with the APA in December continues, but by now definitely is no longer the Annual Conference.

April 1992

  • Pat identifies herself in a memo as “Retiring Executive Director” to be replaced by Ron Duska as of August 15,1992.
  • The new bylaws increase the Executive Committee to include the past president, the Executive Director and the Editor-in-chief of BEQ; and specify that the senior Executive member will serve as President.
  • The Newsletter takes on its present professional format and increases its coverage of announcements, conferences, books, calls for papers, videos, teaching tools, and other news in the area of business ethics.

August 1993

  • At the conference in Atlanta, Jennifer Moore gives the Presidential Address, and Leo Ryan, the Chair of the Executive Committee is the first constitutionally authorized President of the Society.

August 1994

  • Leo Ryan delivers the Presidential Address in Dallas.
  • At the conference, the SBE holds joint sessions with the Social Issues in Management of the Academy of Management. Richard De George is appointed as the SBE historian.

August 1995

  • The Society follows the Academy of Management to Vancouver for its Annual Conference.
  • The incoming president, Tom Dunfee, notes that the Society’s membership is now up to 700 members, and that the Society is 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.

August 1996

  • The Academy of Management has to do without the SBE, which met with the Academy of Legal Studies in Quebec City.
  • Archie Carroll wins in a run-off election to become the new member on the Executive Committee.

May 1997

  • The Society enters the Internet world with a website developed by Mark Schneider.
  • Ron Duska turns over the duties of Newsletter editor to Joe Desjardin.

  • The May Newsletter carries a set of proposed amendments to the By-laws, some of which enable the Society to be officially recognized as a 501-3C not for profit organization.
  • The Society gains that stature.

August 1997

  • Laura Nash gives the Presidential Address at the Boston conference.

September 1997

  • Ron Duska in the September Newsletter announces that membership in the Society has increased to over 1000.

August 1998

  • The first Membership Directory appears, listing about 800 names.
  • In 1998 John Boatright gives the Presidential address, raising the question “Does Business Ethics Rest on a Mistake?”
  • Archie Carroll replaces Boatright as president.

February 1999

  • Dues collection and membership data processing for the Society is outsourced to the Philosophy Documentation Center.

August 1999

  • George Brenkert replaces Carroll as President and is also appointed the new Editor of the BEQ, replacing Pat Werhane.
  • AI Gini stays on as Associate Editor.
  • Dues increase from $40 to $50.

January 2000

  • John Boatright replaces Ron Duska as Executive Director.

February 2000

  • Boatright redesigns the SBE website and sets about streamlining and improving the Society’s finances.

August 2000

  • At the annual conference in Toronto George Brenkert gives his Presidential Address.
  • At the Business Meeting, the Society adopts John Boatright’s proposal that the Society incorporate.
  • The Society also adopts new By-Laws.
  • The term of office is increased from four to five years, and a nominating committee is instituted.
  • The Society’s paid individual membership has dropped to 506 in 1999, but there are 383 institutional members—so the total is still 889.

August 2001

  • Edwin Hartman does an excellent job at increasing attendance for the 2001 conference, achieving the largest conference attendance ever—174.
  • John Dienhart’s presidential address in Washington, D.C. is especially noteworthy for its title,“Who Are Our Hairdressers?”

March 2002

  • The Spring 2002 Newsletter carries the Profit and Loss Statement for the Society for 2001, and reveals that somehow the Society has eye-popping total cash assets of $75,665.66.

August 2002

  • Laura Hartman, who also sets up an SBE list server, gives the Presidential address in Denver.

August 2003

  • The Society adds a media guide so the media can contact members, and a communications and marketing director.
  • The annual conference takes place in Seattle.
  • Daryl Koehn gives the Presidential Address.
  • The Board appoints Denis Arnold as SBE liaison with the APA, and he actively sets up programs at the three APA division meetings.

August 2004

  • At the New Orleans Conference Dennis Moberg becomes president.
  • John Boatright steps down as Executive Director, leaving the Society with 576 individual members and 414 institutional members, for a total of 990.
  • Joseph Desjardins agrees to assume the role of Executive Director as of January 1, 2005.
  • Gina Wolfe takes over as editor of the Newsletter.
  • George Brenkert announces that Gary Weaver will replace him as Editor-in-Chief of the BEQ.


Those of us who attended the 25th Anniversary conference in Honolulu were privileged to hear Richard De George present a history of the Society. As is to be expected, it provides a record of the birth and development of the profession. As important, it also provides some interesting and humorous insights into the men and women who have been instrumental in shaping the Society as we know it today.Read it×