Class of 2016
Business Ethics Intern
Conor is a senior economics and philosophy double major from Redmond, Washington. He views business ethics as an intersection of his two majors, and joined the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics' Business Ethics Internship program, seeing it as a great way to apply to the things he enjoys learning in a corporate setting. His internship with Cisco systems in San Jose started this past June and will finish in December, with the possibility of extending through the end of the academic year next June. We spoke with him about the internship and what he’s learned through the experience.
What are you doing at your internship?
I am doing a lot of different things for my internship:
- I've been heavily involved in the new web strategy for the department as the company is going through a lot of shifts in what platforms they are using as well as updating their current sites.
- I also handle GTE Disclosures, making sure that all gifts, travel, or entertainment expenses for customers or partners are entered correctly and that expenses are within set limits.
- My biggest project has been working on the company's Code of Business Conduct (COBC). Originally I was working on the campaign for the new French COBC, which is about to be rolled out for the first time. And now that I am staying on for longer, I am working on the COBC for the upcoming fiscal year as well.
How have you been able to apply what you’ve learned at SCU to your internship?
I think one of the main things I have been able to apply from my Santa Clara education is critical thinking – something that has been a huge part of my time as a student. Along with the creativity it requires, critical thinking has helped me bring a new perspective to a lot of the projects I’m working on, and has helped me be a more integral part of the collaborative team I’m working with.
What is something that you’d like to accomplish during this internship?
I really wanted to be involved in big projects during the summer; and now that I am part of the team heading up the plan for the new COBC, I feel like I have accomplished my initial goal. The main things I am interested in now are how our VP operates and what it takes for her to run the entire team, and also getting more involved in the cross functionality of the company and how different departments operate together.
What surprised you most about working in ethics and compliance at a major company?
My biggest surprise was probably how much of a growing field ethics and compliance is within the corporate world. Most companies have operated without a compliance team until recent years, but it is becoming an increasingly important part of everyday business.
What do you think is one of the biggest ethical challenges in Silicon Valley today?
One of the biggest ethical challenges I have seen deals with corruption and bribery, especially in the case of government officials. Even a small gift can be seen as bribery, and with so many different standards for how to deal with customers and partners, both across countries and within the U.S., it can be very challenging.
Some people say that business ethics is an oxymoron – how would you respond to that?
I would disagree with that; I think it depends entirely on how a company is run. Ethics and compliance departments are becoming an increasingly important part of modern businesses, and while certain companies have cultures that demand higher levels of ethical behavior, others might let things slip simply for a bump in revenue. But it has been found in recent studies that companies which actively pursue strong ethics and compliance programs report higher revenues overall.
What is the hardest part about working in ethics and compliance?
I think the hardest part is getting people from other departments to understand the importance of the processes in place. While some things, such as the required GTE Disclosures, may seem like a hindrance to people, they ensure that we keep a record of all transactions and in turn help protect the company. So while they may take a little time to do, processes such as these are what keep companies running so smoothly.
What is one thing that you have taken away from the internship so far?
I think the big thing is the importance of compliance and ethics programs in corporations. It is becoming a point of increasing interest in the corporate world as people begin to realize that by acting in a proper manner, they can actually improve their company's standing.
Do you want to continue working in ethics and compliance once you graduate? If not, what do you want to do?
I would work in ethics and compliance after graduating; this internship has been an amazing opportunity and has shown me a glimpse of what it would be like to work in the industry. Based on my academic background and what I have experienced so far this summer, I would say this is a field I could definitely see myself going into.
This interview has been lightly edited.