The inquiry into a pair of Boeing 737 Max jet crashes will consider many factors, including whether the crashes were mechanical, technical or aerodynamic in nature.
Perhaps they should also consider the ethical dimensions behind business decisions made well before the tragedies took place, a business ethics expert who visited the Broad College said recently.
“Boeing was dealing with this huge, sophisticated plane that they kept trying to adapt instead of having to go through the expense of retooling … they made a decision not to make a new plane and that has with it the consequences that come from it. But the decision to make a new plane, or not make a new plan, is an ethical decision, not just a technical (one),” said Catharyn Baird, CEO of EthicsGame, a trademarked curriculum that helps students recognize core ethical frameworks.
At the Broad College, Baird has worked with students to sharpen their ethical lenses. Ethics has a critical place in today’s business world, said Paulette Stenzel, a professor of sustainability and international business law in the Department of Finance.
“We can open a newspaper every single day and see ethical questions that arise in business, that arise in the university setting and in personal life. This is equipping our students for their lives in business as well as personally and in the community,” Stenzel said.
Baird said the recent Boeing case was a prime real-world example for students on how ethics and business decisions are intertwined. A big example is the jet manufacturer’s choices to minimize training for the 737 Max despite significant changes from the original 737 design.
“The ethical decision to not inform and not educate, those are ethical decisions, because it’s how do we interact with our customers and how do we interact with our clients in order to make sure we have safety,” Baird said. “With Boeing, there was nobody in there that designed a plane that would kill people. But what you had was different systems with different drivers and different ethical blind spots and weaknesses that came together in a perfect storm.”
“The hardest part for the C-level is to begin to anticipate where it is that we’re going to see these weaknesses (from which) we’re going to get this perfect storm and mitigate against them,” she said. “That’s what they should be paid the big bucks to do.”
The aerospace industry is hardly alone in facing such challenges. “Every career field in business has different pressure points that can lead to failure. The question becomes identifying them and then helping students understand how they can both question and resolve those pressure points,” Baird said.
“The goal in the business program is to educate people who will have that ethical core where they don’t only have to have regulation in order to make sure we have safe products,” Baird said.