When Cathy Benko joined the Ethics Center as a member of the Advisory Board, she brought with her years of experience and expertise in corporate boards and as a businesswoman and author. Benko was the vice chairman and managing principal of DeLoitte LLP., and is currently a board member for Nike, Inc. and the Harvard Business School’s Advisory Council, among other boards. Not only is Benko an accomplished business professional, but she is also a patent-holder and best-selling author. She first got involved as a member of the leadership and business ethics advisory council, and expanded her involvement last year to include her current position on the Ethics Center Advisory Board.
Ethics have always been integral to Benko’s approach to business, no matter which of her many roles she might be presently occupying. As she says, “Ethics has always been the underpinning of better decision making.” In her experience, better decisions lead to more trust, which in turn fosters stronger bonds and relationships, as well as better business. Over decades of experience in business fields, Benko has seen the importance of ethics, and specifically applied ethics, across a wide array of organizations and corporations.
One of the things that attracted Benko to the Ethics Center, in particular, was the primary focus on applied ethics and the importance that the Ethics Center places on real-world impact. “[The Ethics Center] takes the best principles of ethics as a conceptual framework and a philosophical approach but then applies them to our everyday environment.” For Benko, ethics in a theoretical approach are valuable, but they become even more so when combined with strategies and tools that apply them to material results. Toolsets like those the Ethics Center has created, as well as the many collaborations between the Ethics Center and other organizations, are tactile examples of ethics being used in real–world settings to solve concrete problems.
Another element that Benko finds important is the Ethics Center’s connection to Santa Clara University and the undergraduate community. “The students and alumni at Santa Clara are very fortunate that ethics is essentially baked into their education.” Benko hopes that these same students and alumni recognize the privileges they have due to their proximity to the Ethics Center, saying “that doesn’t mean [ethics] should be transparent, it should be something that they are always cognizant of.” Students and alumni, especially those who have been involved in fellowship and internship programs at the Ethics Center, go on to become leaders and valued members of their fields. For Benko, this pipeline, that emphasizes ethics throughout higher education and beyond, is one of the cornerstones of the Ethics Center’s work, and again highlights the importance of a real-world connection for theoretical ethical guidelines.
Ultimately, Benko says, ethics and the work of the Center are invaluable to our modern society. The turmoil of the last few years has done nothing but reinforce the importance of ethics and organizations such as the Ethics Center. Despite these challenges and the uncertainty we have come to know as daily life, Benko is still optimistic, especially if we embrace applied ethics. As Benko predicts, “given the polarized world we find ourselves in, applied ethics, delivered through the Markkula Center, can play a large part in helping solve our country’s divides.”