The Robert H. Smith School of Business kicked off its Business Ethics Lecture Series on October 6, with a riveting talk on white-collar crime and living on the ethical edge delivered by guest lecturers Alfred and Joan Porro. The Porros spoke of the personal and professional upheaval caused in their lives after they were sentenced to more than 45 months in prison for white-collar crimes. They held an audience of university undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff spellbound as they openly shared their experiences and lessons learned.
The talk was the first part of a three-part series hosted by the Smith School and put together by Stephen Loeb, Ernst & Young Alumni Professor of Accounting and Business Ethics. Loeb leads a program that annually brings Smith School MBA students to federal prisons to hear white-collar criminals talk about their experiences.
An experiential approach is the most powerful form of business education, said Loeb. Sometimes aids like this keep honest people honest.
Mr. Porro spoke first describing how career ambition and a drive for success led to ethical choices he later came to regret. His was a cautionary allegory about the dangers associated with becoming a successful businessperson. You will taste success and that is when you should be very, very cautious, said Mr. Porro.
Mr. Porro described how he worked hard and worked his way up and a day came when he knew he had truly arrived. But with success, his ego grew. As my ego got bigger and bigger, my sense of integrity and ethics blurred, said Mr. Porro.
He succumbed to the temptations of a relative sense of morality and also learned the implications. In 1999, he was sentenced to six years of federal prison for mail fraud and tax return-related crime.
Mr. Porro vividly described his prison experience. He said that it was not the physical discomforts of prison life which tormented him most, but rather the pain of being separated from everyone he loved. With his voice shaking with emotion, he said that he was not able to see his wife for five years and was only able to speak to her four times, for fifteen minutes each time. He then introduced his wife, Joan Porro.
Mrs. Porro a well-dressed, attractive and well-spoken woman described her life before the 1999 sentencing. She was a successful lawyer, an active community contributor, and in short, not the sort of person you would ever expect to see in prison. How did she end up there? Mrs. Porro said she made the error of allowing her personal life to interfere with her professional life. This plus an overworked lifestyle affected her ability to think clearly and she ended up making a mistake which cost her dearly.
Mrs. Porro also described prison life in a womans prison overcrowded conditions, work which involved loading trucks, washing bathrooms, and cleaning floors. Throughout her ordeal, her faith gave her strength. She too emphasized the emotional pain of being in prison and being unable to be near loved ones. Mrs. Porro pointed out that though she is out of prison now, the sentencing continues to affect her professional life and she has found it extremely difficult to practice an alternate career.
The Porros said that it is not easy for them to come before a large audience and tell their story. But they hope to save the lives of others who may be living on the ethical edge and are on the verge of ignoring that inner voice which says, Dont do it.
Students had many questions for the Porros.
First year, full-time MBA student Jack Kammer felt that Mr. Porros caution to men about blindly embracing the standard male-role pursuit of money and power was especially poignant. He was also impressed that Mrs. Porro immediately and without hesitation responded balance when he asked what values should guide students in pursuit of a happy and fulfilling life.
The next Business Ethics Lecture Series event is on October 26. The speaker is Bruce Dubinsky, noted forensic accountant. Mr. Dubinsky will speak about ethics in the business community from his vantage point as a forensic accountant who has investigated numerous cases.
▓ Smith Media Group, Sachin Agarwal, MBA Candidate 2007