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Kirk Hanson

Noted ethicist and scholar Kirk Hanson, who delivered the Commencement Address to the Class of 2013 at University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C.’s invitation, is one of the founders of the field of modern business ethics. Today he is executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, and is that Catholic university’s John Courtney Murray S.J. University Professor of Social Ethics. He remains a professor emeritus of business and ethics at Stanford University, where he taught for many years, and is a prolific writer, perhaps best known for his popular weekly column on workplace ethics in the San Jose Mercury News.

Hanson earned his undergraduate and MBA degrees at Stanford (where he was editor of the student newspaper), and also did graduate work at Yale Divinity School and Harvard’s Graduate School of Business, but his expertise in business ethics was not earned in the classroom as much as it was in enterprise. Fresh out of college, he worked for the National Alliance of Business (working directly with Levi Strauss chairman Walter Haas), the Southern New England Telephone Company, Chicago United (a business/minority organization coalition), and the National Affiliation of Concerned Business Students (an organization he founded in 1971), before starting three more national business ethics organizations—the Hanson Group, the Business Enterprise Trust, and Ementoring.com, an online course company founded in 1999 and sold a year later.

All this while returning to academia, first as a professor of management at Claremont Graduate School, and at Stanford University, where he directed the master’s degree program, taught in the university’s noted Executive Program, and chaired the university’s Commission on Investment Responsibility. In 2001 he accepted Santa Clara’s offer to both teach and direct the Markkula Center, which has more than fifty affiliated scholars and programs in the ethics of biology, health care, technology, government, law, education, and character development. Here on The Bluff, executive vice president Fr. Mark Poorman, C.S.C., developer of the University’s booming Character Project, has worked with Hanson and the Markkula Center. Together, they labor to shape their respective universities’ creative efforts to foment, hone, elevate, and stimulate character discernment and development.

In addition to his work as a popular journalist, Hanson is the author, co-author, or editor of many books, among them Putting Christian Values to Work in Business and The Accountable Corporation, and an articulate and blunt commentator on poor corporate performance from the Catholic Church to Enron, Exxon, and British Petroleum. “Over the many years I have been teaching business responsibility and ethics,” he says, “there’s been a new case about once every five years that defines again for us why business ethics and corporate responsibility need to be a constant concern: Lockheed, Love Canal, General Dynamic, errant savings and loan companies, Exxon, WorldCom, Countrywide, Toyota, BP. [All these] stories demonstrate how quickly corporate good will can evaporate through misbehavior…reputations are swept away by the manipulation of the truth. Only consistently thoughtful and responsible decisions about safety and the welfare of all stakeholders of the firm, and complete transparency in times of crisis, will sustain a company’s reputation…”