Q&A | A conversation with the new executive director of the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics

Christie Stephenson

The UBC Sauder School of Business marked the official opening of the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics today with an announcement naming its new executive director, Christie Stephenson. A well-known champion of corporate social responsibility and sustainable business practices, Stephenson has spent the past 15 years at Canada’s leading socially responsible investment firms helping investors make choices that are good for society and the environment, as well as the bottom line. 

She is a frequent speaker to industry, academic and public audiences on topics related to governance, sustainability and corporate social responsibility, and her work on these issues has made her a sought-after expert for the media.

As executive director, she will leverage her unique background to build the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics into a global leader dedicated to taking a comprehensive approach to the study, teaching and promotion of business ethics. 

In the next major step of centre development, Stephenson will be joined by an academic director, a role for which UBC Sauder is currently raising $2 million to support with a Professorship in Responsible Business/Social Good.
Below is a conversation with Stephenson as she embarks on her latest challenge:

Why do you think an ethics centre is important to have at a business school?

Students are driving demand for more education around responsible business practices. Increasingly, they want their experience at UBC Sauder to prepare them to navigate ethical issues in their future careers. Students are also seeking out ways to make a positive impact on society by integrating values in their business careers. 

The business community also has a growing need for graduates, their future workforce, who understand the importance of corporate social responsibility, and the risks of not doing enough to protect people and the planet longer term. There’s a growing body of academic work in this area, but students need the proper tools to disseminate and translate it for the business community, and society as a whole. This will help them, and those around them, better grapple with issues such as climate change, the pressures on the planet from a growing global population, as well as the need to deepen respect for other cultures and their traditional ways of life.

Why do you feel it's so important to advance the study of business ethics now?

Sustainability is the future of business. The change is being driven by two key considerations: a huge shift in wealth from one generation to the next, and a shift in consumer and stakeholder expectations. Consumers are paying more attention than ever before to what they buy, and its impact on the environment and society. Meantime, other stakeholders, including investors, governments and communities, recognize the need for sustainability to help mitigate risk. We’ve seen a number of examples recently where companies that try to skirt environmental and social responsibilities can suffer both loss in value and damage to their brand reputation.

What will you do in your role?

So much is already happening at UBC Sauder to promote responsible and sustainable business practices. I see my role as providing leadership to help drive a values-based approach to business education, which includes pulling together work being done across the university. Our goal is to develop a global research hub for business ethics.

I will also work with the business community to deepen its connection with the school around the topic of sustainable business. Together, we can help position UBC Sauder as a global leader on responsible and ethical business practices.

How does your background make you the right person for the job?

I am coming at this job from a background in both business value as well as business values. The value is around risk mitigation and seizing opportunities in the market. Values are the beliefs and tools to use business as a vehicle for social betterment. To me, the business case for ethics is irrefutable and the potential of business for social betterment is endless.

How will you instill students with an understanding of the importance of ethics in business?

The good news is that so many students today already come to UBC Sauder with a keen sense of the importance of business responsibility and ethics. My role will be to help increase their literacy around the complex issues of sustainability and ethics in business, helping them to become responsible business leaders of the future.