Despite being the smallest and youngest team in the competition, a pair of LMU students took home first place. Megan O'Malley, a senior economics major, and Sarah Carratt, a junior biology major, won the annual Intercollegiate Business Ethics Case Competition (IBECC) in Bellevue, Wash., which is the "most recognized international business ethics competition," according to a University press release.
"We were blown away," said Carratt of the team's victory. "We could see our adviser [was] overwhelmed with excitement. There was just a ton of high energy in the room."
The winning presentation examined the ethical issues on the use of the chemical triclosan in Colgate toothpaste. When asked how they arrived at the topic of toothpaste, Carratt replied again that it was the team's diverse backgrounds that played a large part in the development of their project. "Since my major is in the sciences we were trying to find a topic that I would be able to explain. ... We were trying to find something that would set us apart from other groups researching ethical issues in the business world and companies being looked into [for engaging in ethically dubious practices]," she said.
"Toothpaste is something you use everyday," said O'Malley. "That's what made it so compelling - the chemical use we were looking into involved deposits in the environment [and] contact with children. It's supposed to be helpful and the fact that it's harmful was really compelling," she said.
O'Malley and Carratt were one of 16 teams to deliver presentations on a variety of ethical issues present in the business world. Teams from around the world, including representatives from Oxford and the international business school INSEAD, competed in the contest which is part of the annual conference of the Ethics and Compliance Officer Association, according to the press release issued by LMU.
"We were surprised when we first got there to see we were one of the youngest teams competing," said Carratt. "We were competing against ... Ph.D. candidates. We were also the only non-business majors in the competition. While most teams had at least one or two [business majors] on their team, Megan and I are science and economics majors. [We were nervous] because we didn't have the business background [other teams] did."
O'Malley said this diversity is what gave the winning team its edge over the competition. "We had a different, outside perspective that was unique from [the one] shared by a lot of the competitors who were actually students of business ethics," she said. "We were able to draw on what we've learned in a lot of different classes [in] different disciplines, which helped a lot."
O'Malley and Carratt originally prepared their presentation for a class they were enrolled in as part of the University Honors Program at LMU. Their professor, Thomas White, the chair of business ethics and director of the Center for Ethics and Business at LMU, offered the opportunity to prepare a presentation for IBECC in lieu of writing a final paper for the class. White, who created the IBECC at LMU in 1996, continued to advise Carratt and O'Malley throughout the competition process.
After delivering their presentation to their peers in the class, Carratt and O'Malley participated in a qualifying competition at LMU before moving on to the final round of competition. The pair then delivered their 20-minute presentation to a panel of judges who assessed the group's evaluation of not only the ethical, but legal and financial dimensions of the selected topic. After delivering their initial presentation, Carratt and O'Malley found out they had won the undergraduate division of the competition and would be moving on to the final four to compete against winners from the undergraduate north, graduate and international divisions. (Carratt and O'Malley competed in the undergraduate south division.)
"It was fascinating to see what the other top teams picked to do presentations on," said Carratt. "One looked at Coca-Cola's use of marketing for Vitamin Water and whether or not those [advertisements] were misleading. Another group looked at the company that is the equivalent of 9-1-1 in India and evaluated the ethics of supporting that company."
Before it was announced that Carratt and O'Malley won the overall competition, the pair found out they had won the Emmons Award, recognizing the duo for achieving the highest score in the ethics category of judges' evaluations. "When we found out we won [the Emmons Award] we started getting really excited. We knew that represented a quarter of the possible points so to have done the best in that really meant we had a shot at winning the whole thing," said Carratt.
Carratt and O'Malley agree the competition plays an important role in raising awareness of issues in business ethics and feel the opportunity to participate provided them with a valuable insight into an obscure realm of the business world. "People are so pessimistic about business and business ethics but at the end of the day, companies really do want to do what is right. The ethical thing is, in a lot of ways, what makes good business sense too. If you engage in immoral practices for too long it can hurt your business. We were able to think about what's good and right in the long run for both customers and the company," said O'Malley.