Conference about ethics held at Naval Academy

October 28, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

One year ago, a group studying military ethics at the Naval Academy began thinking that corporate executives and military leaders -- both painfully aware of how ethical lapses can harm an institution -- could learn something from each other.

The result was a meeting of the minds yesterday that included speeches by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes; retired Adm. James D. Watkins, a former U.S. energy secretary; Ronald D. Sugar, chief executive officer of Northrop Grumman; and ethics expert Amitai Etzioni.

The all-day conference was the idea of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics at the Naval Academy. The 5-year-old center promotes ethics in leadership.

The group hopes the conference will be the first of many such discussions. "We just got intrigued with the notion that when you look at corporate scandals, some of those challenges faced are not unique to the corporate world," said Albert C. Pierce, the center's director.

The military academies have also weathered their share of scandals, including the investigations into sexual assault at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy's cheating outbreak a decade ago.

When asked whether a leadership change at the Air Force Academy would be enough to foster a culture of change, Etzioni said there are no magic answers to ethical questions. Organizations need to look at their structure, review their culture through surveys and repent if they make mistakes.

For CEOs such as Sugar and Kevin Sharer of biotech company Amgen, part of ethical decision-making is taking responsibility for the company's actions and making sure the leader knows what is going on.

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