Students’ ethical thinking focus of college competition

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.]

RALEIGH, N.C. — At Martin Marietta, an employee was terminated years ago after being found to have accepted gifts from a vendor, while another employee lost his job after admitting he had filled his personal vehicle with gas at a company pump.

“Violating our code of ethical conduct is a sure, automatic termination,” says Anne Lloyd, executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Raleigh-based company.

While actual cases of fraud are rare at Martin Marietta, which employs 7,000 people, the company in the past has terminated senior-level and long-tenured employees for violations of ethical and business conduct, Lloyd says, and employers everywhere should be vigilant in helping their employees avoid improper behavior.

Critical thinking for the real world – specifically, ethics in education — will be the focus of the fourth annual NCICU Ethics Bowl, which will be held February 6 and 7 at the Campbell University School of Law in Raleigh.

More than 100 college students from 20 of the state’s independent colleges and universities will participate in this year’s competition, which is a program of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the statewide office for the state’s 36 independent nonprofit colleges and universities.

“Students need to understand that corporate America values ethical behavior and appreciates the dilemmas that are often in the day-to-day actions that we take,” says Lloyd, who has served for four years as a member of the planning committee for the Ethics Bowl. Martin Marietta is one of over 20 corporate sponsors of the event.

Hope Williams, president of NCICU, says the organization created the Ethics Bowl to underscore the indispensable role that ethical thinking and actions play in daily life, and to give students an opportunity to develop the skills to recognize and analyze ethical issues quickly and work in teams to resolve them.

“Ethical thinking prepares students to be workers of high integrity, engaged citizens and responsible adults,” Williams says.

Business, government and foundation leaders serve as judges and moderators at the Ethics Bowl, which pits student teams against one another through four rounds of debate on ethical questions, including those the students have researched in advance, as well as a surprise question. Following the fourth round for all teams on Saturday, the most successful teams compete in two semi-final rounds, held concurrently, followed by a final round.

“It’s really teaching college students how to identify ethical issues, how to analyze them,” says Holly Wenger, director of ethics and compliance at Duke Energy and a judge in the final round of last year’s Ethics Bowl. “Those are the kind of people that Duke Energy wants.”

As it is at many companies, ethical behavior is a core value at Martin Marietta and at Duke Energy, which also is a sponsor of the Ethics Bowl. Spelled out in corporate statements, those two companies’ commitment to ethical behavior is the focus of orientation for new employees and ongoing training for all employees.

Charlotte-based Duke Energy also provides a hotline, administered by a third party, that its 28,000 employees can use to report ethical concerns — anonymously if the employees choose — about issues ranging from fairness and discrimination to whether to accept gifts from vendors, Wenger says. The company then investigates the concerns.

Duke Energy also encourages questions from employees and works with them to provide guidance on ethical issues.

Lloyd at Martin Marietta says a college class in business ethics she took as an elective for her major in accounting and finance was “probably closest to the way the real world works than any other classes I took.”

Corporations recognize that ethical issues represent a “gray area” in the business world and pose the challenge of “taking divergent views and coming to the right course of action for your company, your shareholders and all other stakeholders,” she says.

“It’s better to talk about it and express those differences and come to some agreement as to the course of action rather than keep it to yourself,” she says. “We all face those decisions every day. You have an ethical choice with almost every decision you have to make.”

In addition to the team competition, students participating in the Ethics Bowl will have the opportunity — during the competition and at a reception and dinner at the North Carolina Museum of History —  to meet corporate, foundation and government leaders from across the state who serve as judges and moderators for the competition.

“In today’s competitive global economy, organizations place a significant value on employees who can see and resolve the ethical questions they face in the workplace every day,” says Williams. “The Ethics Bowl reflects the broad effort by North Carolina’s independent colleges and universities to prepare students to think and act critically and responsibly.”

Duke Energy to continue level, focus of philanthropy

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — The level of corporate philanthropy at Duke Energy, which merged with Progress Energy effective July 2, will not shrink from the combined support the two companies have been providing in the communities they serve, and its philanthropy will continue to focus on the social needs the two companies have been addressing, the head of the Duke Energy Foundation says.

“The overall focus will continue to be building strong communities,” says Richard “Stick” Williams, president of the Duke Energy Foundation.

In North Carolina, annual philanthropic giving in 2011 totaled $8.5 million at Duke Energy and $4.7 million at Progress Energy, he says, with Duke Energy giving a total of $33 million a year throughout its entire service area, and Progress Energy giving a total of nearly $9 million throughout its entire service area.

In documents they filed with the N.C. Utilities Commission, he says, they agreed to maintain their combined giving over the next four years at $16 million to $17 million, or a total of $65 million to $66 million.

In addition to philanthropic dollars, both companies encouraged their employees to volunteer and donate to charity, and they provided corporate support to sponsor charitable events.

In 2011, Duke Energy employees and retirees contributed over 200,000 volunteer hours worth $4.4 million. While Progress Energy employees and retirees also were actively engaged in community initiatives, the company did not track total volunteer hours or the dollar value of those hours.

As part their philanthropic giving, both companies offer programs that match charitable contributions by employees.

For each employee, for example, Duke agrees to match up to $5,000 a year in giving, dollar-for-dollar for giving to education, and 50 cents on the dollars for giving to other causes.

The corporate match totals about $1.2 million a year, a total that is included in the company’s overall philanthropic giving.

Progress Energy has given about $1.1 million a year in matching support during its annual employee giving campaign, Williams says.

While the two corporate foundations will not merge until January 1, Williams says, the goal is for each foundation to continue focusing on the causes it has supported in the past.

All those causes have focused on “community vitality,” he says, including support for nonprofits that work in the areas of human services, economic development, the environment, prekindergarten-through-high-school education, and higher education.

“That will not change,” Williams says.

And in the region that Progress Energy served, he says, his goal over the next several years is to “continue to focus on things Progress has considered to be important.”

Alisa McDonald, vice president of the Duke Energy Foundation, says both companies provided significant financial support to similar organizations in the Triangle area.

Duke Energy, for example, awarded $1.25 million over five years to the Advanced Transportation Energy Center at N.C. State University, $1.2 million to the College of Engineering at N.C. State, $1 million to the Hunt Library at  N.C. State and $1 million to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

And Progress Energy has contributed $1 million grant over five years to the Museum of Natural Sciences, $1.25 million over five years to the Advance Transportation Energy Center and $1.2 million over five years to the College of Engineering at N.C. State.

“It is part of the DNA of Duke Energy,” Williams says, “to be very engaged in the communities and be very supportive of the communities we serve,” Williams says.