Corporate scandals in the early 2000s spurred global organizations such as the World Economic Forum and United Nations to explore the idea of developing universal standards of ethics for business professionals. The idea came to Thunderbird when Ángel Cabrera, a leading advocate for the movement, arrived as the school’s ninth president in 2004. “I thought, ‘If this idea has any merit, it should be picked up by educators,’” says Cabrera, who discussed the need for a Thunderbird Professional Oath of Honor during his first campus address. The idea resonated with students. “We took it as a challenge,” says 2005 Thunderbird MBA graduate Jim Samuel, who served as chairman of the student-led Thunderbird Honor Council. Laura Libman, another Honor Council member who graduated in 2004, says Thunderbird was the ideal place to develop the world’s first business school oath because Thunderbird has such a diverse student body. “The idea of a universal set of ethics, a universal code that all business people around the world could share, was just a fascinating nut for us to crack,” she says. “We had students from every continent except Antarctica here that we could bounce the ideas off of, and get input from.”
Students developed the Thunderbird Professional Oath of Honor and presented the document to the school’s Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees for formal adoption in 2006. Since then the oath has been integrated into the school’s application process, curriculum and graduation ceremony. Every student reviews the oath before enrolling at Thunderbird and then takes an ethics course based on the oath. During graduation, students are invited to sign the oath voluntarily. They also stand together and recite the oath before the conferral of degrees. The student-led Thunderbird Honor Council guides the process and provides leadership.
Thunderbird students accepted a challenge to develop an oath during the school\’s first Ethics Day on Nov. 9, 2004. The student-led Thunderbird Honor Council started with a 250-word draft from Thunderbird President Ángel Cabrera. The group customized the document and then solicited input — first from students and then from faculty, staff, alumni and other stakeholders. The process included an oath wiki, which allowed anyone to change, delete or add language. The result was an 84-word pledge that the Faculty Senate unanimously adopted on April 27, 2006. The Board of Trustees gave its unanimous approval on June 2, 2006.
Thunderbird School of Global Management learned at least five valuable lessons during the development of its oath: 1. Let the students take the lead because they are the ones who will swear to uphold the oath; 2. Keep the process transparent and inclusive; 3. Consider diverse cultural perspectives; 4. Institutionalize the oath in some formal manner; and 5. Integrate the oath into all aspects of the student experience.
“We’re trying to create a community of international business professionals, where there are certain understood expectations of what’s appropriate and how to do business in a global environment.” — Greg Giauque, 2006 Thunderbird MBA graduate
“The question came in: ‘How is the oath going to help? Is it going to make a difference, or is it going to be a gimmick?’ That was the key concern. So we took it as a challenge. We took it as part of the honorable process to answer the toughest criticisms.” — Jim Samuel, 2005 Thunderbird MBA graduate
“The idea of a universal set of ethics, a universal code that all business people around the world could share, was just a fascinating nut for us to crack.” — Laura Libman, 2005 Thunderbird MBA graduate
“Not only is it OK for us to tell future managers what is right and wrong, it’s an absolute responsibility and duty of ours.” — Ángel Cabrera, Thunderbird President, 2004-2012
“The global economy has collapsed, and we are the ones training the pilots of the global financial system. Are we still going to tell the rest of the world that it’s not our fault?” — Ángel Cabrera, Thunderbird President, 2004-2012