Ethics in action: Jessica McManus Warnell

Spring 2015

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The word “ethics” appears 87 times in Jessica McManus Warnell’s curriculum vitae. And perhaps that’s to be expected. After all, she has taught business ethics at Mendoza since 2001, and concurrently coor- dinated Mendoza’s ethics-based community outreach for seven years.

But it’s the frequency of related words that shows how she puts ethics into action: community (38 times), member (30 times), youth (18 times), sustainability (17 times) and service (14 times). The CV’s lists of community boards, social programs and service opportunities for students clearly illustrates that McManus has built her life — personal and professional — upon her passion for ethics and service.

What’s unclear is how she finds time for it all.

At the time of this Q&A, McManus, an associate teaching professor in management, had just published her first book, Engaging Millennials for Ethical Leadership (see page 26 for more information), and was enthusiastically studying Japanese language to complement her research on business ethics. She explains more here.

Q: Your commitments are so diverse. What motivates you?

A: There are so many opportunities to help improve lives and so many smart, talented people in the world with wonderful ideas about how to make it happen. I want to be part of that. And a university is the perfect place to participate because a university can be collaborative and principled and discover research about what works. Notre Dame is very oriented toward service and applying knowledge — it’s not an ivory tower where ideas are generated. I want to help that mission as much as I can and create enthusiasm and passion in students.

Q: What prompted your book?

A: I teach about 300 millennials a semester, and they’re action-oriented and want iterative feedback quickly and respond to mentorship very well. These traits are great for the business world, especially combined with millennials’ interest in social issues. The question is, how can business managers capitalize on these traits while helping millennials meet their goals to address social challenges through business? Business is changing and millennials are positioned to contribute meaningfully and ethically. Millennial preferences and talents can align well with what research and experience tell us about best practices in effective, ethical business.

Q: Some of your newest research addresses Japanese business ethics. How did that come about and why is it relevant?

A: I attended an ethics conference three years ago with my colleague Marketing Professor Georges Enderle, an expert on international business ethics. He introduced me to a group of scholars from Reitaku University near Tokyo, which specializes in ethics. I spent a semester there in 2013 to learn about Japanese traditions of business ethics, and I loved it. Now I’m working with a Reitaku professor on a paper about how Japanese traditions can influence the global dialogue on ethics. It’s interesting because in the United States, our focus in ethical development largely centers on individual integrity. In Japan, the focus is about communal decision making and each person’s responsibility to the group. It’s important to understand these international perspectives because geographic borders are no longer restrictive and a global perspective is crucial.

Q: Why are you interested in sustainability?

A: It’s an iteration of business leadership. These days, we define stakeholders as groups, individuals and entities affected by what business does. It’s not just about shareholder value anymore. Investors and consumers are thinking about the environment, so it’s important for mainstream business as well. Any business that’s not thinking about sustainability is behind the curve. 

Q: What's next for you?

A: I want to continue working with students around innovative solutions to global business challenges. The idea of “business for good” is really appealing to me, and I want to contribute in that space. Personally, I hope my two sons attend Notre Dame in the future. We’ll see. 

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