Denis Arnold

What are the biggest ethical issues facing businesses today?
One of the biggest issues is how leaders can cultivate cultures of integrity at large organizations. Many firms in industries such as financial services and pharmaceuticals are facing challenges to their moral legitimacy because of misconduct. Other firms may be just a few steps away from serious reputational and financial damage because of failures to actively manage organizational ethics and compliance. Directors, executives and senior managers have myriad responsibilities, and as a result they may not pay sufficient attention to managing ethics and compliance effectively. But society has little tolerance for misconduct and the Department of Justice has placed greater attention on holding individuals, and not just shareholders, accountable for corporate misconduct.

Denis Arnold is the Jule and Marguerite Surtman Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics. He is a business ethicist and prolific writer who has published over 70 publications, including six books, and is currently in the midst of a five-year stint as the editor-in-chief of the leading academic journal, Business Ethics Quarterly. Arnold’s paper examining self-regulation in the pharmaceutical industry was named a best article by the Belk College of Business. He is a past president of the Society for Business Ethics.

Describe your area of expertise.
My research focuses on business ethics, corporate responsibility, sustainability and public policy related to business. My current research focuses on two major areas. The first is international business ethics. These issues include labor practices in off-shore factories, business and human rights, and business relationships with those living in extreme poverty. Secondly, my research seeks to understand the drivers of innovation, corporate misconduct and corporate integrity in the pharmaceutical industry. Much of my research and teaching focuses on how firms can effectively manage internal organizational ethics and external stakeholder relations consistent with societal expectations and thereby retain legitimacy.

What has your published research uncovered thus far?
In international business, my research has emphasized best practices in the management of human rights issues in global supply chains. My research on corporate responsibility in the pharmaceutical industry has shown that industry self-regulation without sanctions is ineffectual. It has also shown that firms that focus on marketing rather than research and development are less innovative and develop fewer of the novel drugs that society needs. My collaborators and I have recommended specific public policy solutions to prevent deceptive self-regulation and to encourage pioneering drug innovation.

What research do you have in progress?
My current research focuses on understanding what factors lead some organizations to act with high integrity and some organizations with low integrity relative to their own stated values. I’m also working on a project that synthesizes what is known regarding best practices in the management of labor conditions in global supply chains in order to provide managers with state-of-the-art guidance in this area.

How do you pass on the importance of written communication to your students?
One complaint that businesses often have about new employees is that they are not able to express themselves well in writing. In my MBA classes, I require a substantial amount of writing to help students improve their ability to communicate effectively. 

What do you enjoy most about teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels?
At the undergraduate level, I very much enjoy helping students understand the social, political and economic contexts in which businesses operate. Case studies help to make the ethical dimensions of management obvious and we have terrific conversations based on these cases. At the MBA level, I enjoy having my students connect topics in class to their own workplace experiences. I also learn a lot from my MBA students when they present on current topics in ethics and corporate responsibility. At the doctoral level, I enjoy working with young scholars on innovative research projects that break new ground.

What are some opportunities you have taken to utilize your expertise in the Charlotte community?
My executive education courses train leaders in best practices in the management of effective organizational ethics and compliance. I have provided training and workshops for ethics and compliance officers, business law professionals and local companies — from medium-sized, privately-held firms to Fortune 100 corporations. I also work closely with area CEOs on the annual Barnhardt Seminar in Business Ethics. 

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