News at Smith

Robert Colson Speaks from Experience on Ethics and Morality

Oct 24, 2006
Experiential / Reality-based Learning


Robert Colson, partner at Grant Thornton LLP, spoke to an auditorium of accounting students at the Robert H. Smith School of Business on Thursday, October 24 about the business of ethics and morality. He was the second speaker in the Business Ethics Lecture Series held at Smith. An accountant by day, Colsons interests range from ecology to fly fishing. His work experience spans several decades and includes stints in academia, the nonprofit world, and multinational corporations.

Colson began the lecture by asking students three challenge questions:
1) Would your CPA firm consult with non-audit clients to help them circumvent the spirit of an accounting principle?
2) Would you cheat to get an A in order to be in your most desirable group of interviewees?
3) Would you spring load options if directed by your boss in circumstances when your behavior is likely to remain private?

The questions helped students gain perspective on issues they may face in school or the work place. Colson said that honor codes have helped students behave more ethically in school. He applauded the University of Maryland honor code, which the Smith School uses, and said that studies have shown that schools with honor codes have fewer occurrences of cheating than schools with no codes. However, he also suggested that the university honor code might be more effective if voluntary. He has observed that making a personal statement voluntarily is stronger than going through the motions of a required exercise.

Colson also urged businesses to develop honor and conduct codes for employees. Colson mentioned Grant Thorntons official code of conduct as a good example of corporate ethics in practice. The organization also follows a principle called RIPL, which stands for respect, integrity, professional excellence, and leadership. To help employees behave ethically, Grant Thornton established an ethics hotline that handles workplace problems.

Colson urged the Smith accounting students to be servants to the public good, have a strong personal moral code, and behave professionally. He advised that conscientious professionals would be successful in any career they chose. Many students have already faced moral dilemmas at home or school, but have yet to experience work place pressures. The Business Ethics Lecture Series is an excellent way for students to learn about the moral pressures they will face on the job and how to respond.

Robert H. ColsonAbout Robert H. Colson
Robert H. Colson joined Grant Thornton LLP in August 2005 as a partner for institutional acceptance within the firms Public Policy Group. Mr. Colson works with capital markets institutions and individual thought leaders in academics, business, and government on policy issues related to accounting, auditing, and finance. Grant Thornton is the U.S. member firm of Grant Thornton International one of the six global accounting, tax, and business advisory organizations.

Colson devoted 24 years to teaching, research and administration at The Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, Case Western Reserve University and Daemen College between 1976 and 2000. He worked with Ph.D students, published extensively on auditing and accounting topics, developed numerous courses in two accounting masters programs, wrote cases about accounting system design, and consulted on fraud and accounting systems.

Before entering academics, Colson was the chief executive of a not-for-profit publishing and conference administration organization, a CPA in a firm now merged with McGladrey & Pullen, and the CFO of a large, diversified transportation company. He was also the proprietor for 15 summers of the Bob Colson Fly Fishing School.

Colson graduated with an A.B. in modern languages from the University of Notre Dame in 1970, and earned his MA (1979) and Ph.D (1980) in accountancy from The Ohio State University.

▓ Camille Hoff, MBA Candidate 2008, Smith Media Group

» Read about the fall 2006 ethics lecture series.
> Read about Smith's spring 2006 ethics lecture series.
> Read about Smith's fall 2005 ethics lecture series.
> Read about Smith's spring 2005 ethics lecture series.

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