College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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University of Illinois President on High Integrity Leadership: White delivers 2005 Leighton Lecture


4/11/2005

On April 11, the College of Business welcomed University of Illinois President B. Joseph White, who delivered the 2005 Leighton Lecture. Using "high integrity leadership" as his theme, President White talked to students, community leaders, and staff and faculty members about the need for honest leaders in the business world. Citing the Martha Stewart and Enron scandals as examples, he shed light on the unethical practices of business leaders who take advantage of self-regulation for personal profit. "There is a crisis of confidence and we're all paying the price," he said.

B. Joseph White, president of the University of Illinois.

B. Joseph White, President of the Univesity of Illinois

B. Joseph White greets Richard Leighton. Avijit Ghosh, dean, looks on.

President White greets Richard Leighton, who, with his wife Grace, is sponsor of the Leighton Lecture. College of Business Dean Avijit Ghosh looks on.

As future business executives, President White, also the James Towey professor of business and leadership in the College of Business, urged students to commit to being high integrity professionals despite the temptations they are bound to face in their careers. He listed four points that are key to being a high integrity professional: never knowingly violating laws and regulations; making commitments carefully and keeping them faithfully; avoiding conflicts of interest; and being honest. Additionally, he stressed that issues should be resolved in favor of professional obligations and not personal interests. Acknowledging that the lure of making money and living a life of anonymous prosperity is the American way, he noted that "it takes courage to walk away" from hefty financial payoffs.

Toward the conclusion of his speech, President White reiterated the need for individuals to be courageous when evaluating conflicts of interest and cautioned against rationalizing decisions that can lead to dishonorable practices. He also promoted the protection of an entrepreneur's most precious assets: integrity, independence, reputation, and peace of mind. "A clean conscience is truly priceless," he said.

During the post-lecture question-and-answer session, President White was asked how the University could prepare students for ethical decision-making. "Reinforcement of principles can matter," he said, but declared that true ethics training is forged well before students reach college. In fact, it was White's own father who provided him with his first lesson in ethics. "Be able to look yourself in the mirror without flinching," he said. It is a lesson that White has carried with him throughout the years as his personal definition of integrity, simply "knowing what the right thing is to do and doing it carefully."

The Leighton Lecture series was estabished by Richard '49 and Grace '50 Leighton. An accountancy graduate, he is the retired VP of finance at Barber-Colman Company in Rockford, IL.

--Rosalyn Yates
April 2005

UIUC College of Business