Kristi Bowers ‘90 is an entrepreneur, a dedicated board member, and a lifelong Bronco. Since her time at Santa Clara University, where she earned both a BS in marketing and an MBA, Bowers has been dedicated to the Ethics Center and involved in its efforts. In 2017, Kristi won the Moral Compass Award from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, recognizing individuals who have done the most to make the Ethics Center’s work possible. She is also a constant figure in the SCU community, serving as Secretary of the Board of Trustees and serving on multiple committees. Today, Bowers is the co-founder and CEO of Grape.ag, a SaaS and AI vineyard agricultural tech company. She also manages the award-winning Kings Mountain Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains and advises start-up technology companies.
Bowers has been involved with the Ethics Center since its inception during her time as an undergraduate at SCU. In her words, “this has been sort of a family business since I can remember, even before the Ethics Center existed.” Her parents, Linda and A.C. "Mike" Markkula Jr., provided the initial grant that resulted in the creation of the Ethics Center in 1986. As a student, Bowers remembers speaking with her father about the direction the Center would take and the influential people present for its founding. Integral to the Ethics Center’s founding was a focus on the application of ethics, as opposed to an academic or theoretical study. Bowers believes this is what has set the Ethics Center apart. “One of the most valuable things about the Ethics Center that has remained constant is that this is an applied ethics center and not an academic ethics center.”
Bowers’ work in the entrepreneurial space has led her to develop her own appreciation for and understanding of professional ethics. In her mind, having an ethical backbone for your company provides a very clear benefit. “It's so much easier to argue from a values-based perspective than from a gut- or a feelings-based perspective. There’s consistency there, there’s comfort when you can lead that way, and I would argue it’s a better bottom line.” To put it more succinctly: “The Ethics Center is better business. Period.” That being said, Bowers has also seen lapses in the approach to ethics in Silicon Valley, especially from CEOs and the profit-driven culture of the region. While she likes to think of herself as an optimist, Bowers is realistic about the ways that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs need to change. “I think we can do better,” she says.
Since her time as a student at SCU, the Ethics Center has constructed a variety of ways for students to engage with its programming. While more students are able to connect with the Ethics Center as it’s grown, Bowers thinks more ambitiously. “I wish we had more opportunities here for our students to participate in the Ethics Center.” Of course, Bowers still hopes that students work with the Ethics Center during their time at SCU. Bowers encourages students to “think about the big-picture tools that they want to take away from their four years in college. This one [the Ethics Center] is extremely valuable.” Bowers knows the impact that the Ethics Center has had over the years, and knows that it will continue to grow and change the SCU community in positive ways. As she says with a slight smile, “the more tools we have, as people, to think about ourselves and others, it makes for – and I know this sounds cheesy – a better world.”
Lucas Bush ’23, political science and ethnic studies major and a marketing and communications intern with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, contributed to this story.