A new case competition at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln placed students in a real-world scenario to practice ethical leadership. Sponsored by State Farm, the inaugural Business with Integrity Case Competition provided students with a chance to hone skills needed to become ethical business leaders.
“The value of integrity cannot be underestimated. Any organization students will work in is going to be an environment in which they should be operating with integrity,” said Dr. Tawnya Means, assistant dean, director of the Teaching and Learning Center and assistant professor of practice in management.
With a shared vision that integrity is the cornerstone of success in business, the Nebraska College of Business and Penn State Smeal College of Business worked together to host similar case competitions and elevate the level of ethics education across the Big Ten.
“Collaboration is key to effectively achieving shared goals. Penn State and Nebraska recognize the shared need for ethical business leaders. Working together to develop best practices for engaging our students in the areas of ethics and social responsibility strengthens our colleges and enables us to fulfill the broader purpose of business education,” said Dr. Michelle Darnell, director of Penn State’s Tarriff Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility.
Differentiating from the traditional ethics lecture presentation in years past, the case competition provided a remote hands-on learning experience for students via videoconference. The competition included an exercise much like industries use when reexamining business practices. Students devised a creative solution to help the Arbor Day Foundation emerge from the at-home work environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic in an ethical manner.
“We’ve had excellent ethics guest speakers in the past, but our goal for this year was to give students something more experiential. With this case, students are put in the role of a consulting firm for the Arbor Day Foundation, allowing them to be more involved in actual real-world decision-making organizations may experience,” said Means.
Broderick Diez, junior actuarial science major from Gretna, Nebraska, and his team members, created a strategy with the thought that ethics and integrity meant innovating and excelling while staying true to your values.
“If you lose your ethics in business, all of the work you do is for nothing, and your reputation is lost. We worked with the idea that reputation is everything, while also striving to be as strong in our case as possible,” said Diez, whose team took first place and won a cash prize of $1,500.
His teammate Josh Thiele, junior actuarial science major from Elkhorn, Nebraska, said they kept their strategy simple and straightforward.
“Our plan was concise and stuck close to the prompts of the case, yet also innovated in terms of individual ideas. In something like ethics, where there is almost always a clear correct answer, keeping the big things simple and innovating in the individual goals was a great strategy we were able to employ,” said Thiele, whose team strategy included a hybrid in-person and remote work environment where transparency is a top priority.
After watching the final presentations, the Arbor Day Foundation left the competition with actionable plans to discuss and potentially implement in their organization moving forward.
“Each team demonstrated an effort to truly understand the Arbor Day Foundation’s mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees and how we can leverage our organizational vision to engage our stakeholders and employees in this unique era,” said Logan Donahoo, program manager at the foundation.
With people from the Nebraska Business community and beyond volunteering to help with the competition, Means believes there has never been a more important time to focus on integrity within the business world.
“The world is so much more connected now than it has ever been and there are a lot of ripple effects being seen from unethical behavior. It’s important to continue to raise awareness about ethics and integrity so people recognize the societal impact of the decisions we make on a daily basis,” said Means.
Winning teams included:
- Chris Burgess, junior marketing major from Overland Park, Kansas
- Broderick Diez, junior actuarial science major from Gretna, Nebraska
- Jack Slagle, junior accounting major from Omaha, Nebraska
- Josh Thiele, junior actuarial science major from Elkhorn, Nebraska
- Dalton Brannen, senior international business major from Savage, Minnesota
- Lexie Karkazis, senior computer science major from Western Springs, Illinois
- Samuel Waechter-Cass, senior international business major from Hastings, Nebraska
- Hunter Bergman, senior marketing major from Neligh, Nebraska
- Ben Hohensee, junior management (entrepreneurship) major from Lincoln
- John Kubert, junior finance major from Lincoln
- Jordan Seitz, junior supply chain management major from Gregory, Michigan
- Sam Gilbert, junior actuarial science and mathematics major from Honeoye Falls, New York
- Samantha Gates, junior economics major from Lincoln
- Stephanie Herridge, junior actuarial science major from Lincoln