Cindy Moehring Focuses on Business Integrity for Students at UA

Cindy Moehring Focuses on Business Integrity for Students at UA
Moehring also oversees 50 sports as a member of the oversight and compliance committee of the board of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. (Provided)

Moehring spent 20 years in executive positions at Walmart Inc. of Bentonville, the last as the company’s chief ethics and compliance officer. At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Moehring is in charge of integrating ethical leadership values into the curriculum for students at the Walton College of Business.

 Moehring earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia and a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

How can a university teach integrity effectively?

It must be integrated across the curriculum, but it also must be practical, relevant and experiential. Students often learn best by doing a project themselves. Last year, we introduced a group project at the MBA level where groups of students are given a small amount of seed money and are then asked to think of something good to do and go do it. The groups are judged on their overall impact on society and their return on investment. Last year’s winning team imported coffee from Haiti, roasted it here in northwest Arkansas, and then sold it into coffee shops. This project created a sustainable way of life for farmers and supply chain individuals in Haiti. As a bonus, the group’s product, Montay Coffee, got picked up by Walmart and was on the shelves in less than a year.

What should it mean to have good business integrity?

At its very core, it means that you do business honestly and transparently so that you are seen as a trusted business partner. There are six fundamental core principles that cut across all industries and business types: 

1) You must speak up when you see something that doesn’t seem quite right. 

2) You must respect everyone’s autonomy; in other words, avoid discrimination and harassment as there are no second-class citizens in business. 

3) You should always avoid using forced labor.

4) You should avoid fraud and unlawful deceit. 

5) You should create and use technology that is ethical in its design and execution.

6) Always keep your word.

What are common places that businesspeople fall short?

The common places that people fall short are by not following through on  the six integrity principles. The most common one of all is failing to speak up when you see something wrong. The two most common reasons people fail to speak up is that they fear nothing will be done about it and/or they fear retaliation. All companies should strive to have a culture that promotes the opposite of that dynamic.

How important is leadership in instilling business integrity in an organization?

Tone at the top in any organization is extremely important. Without it, the organization doesn’t really have a strong ethical anchor. Often people will say that “a fish rots from the head down,” which is another way of emphasizing how important tone at the top really is. Just a few years ago, PwC reported that unethical behavior was the No. 1 reason for forced CEO turnover from the world’s 2,500 largest companies. This reason for forced CEO turnover outranked poor financial performance and disagreements with the board of directors. Unfortunately, that shows how prevalent unethical behavior at the top still is today. I also believe it is illustrative of the fact that in today’s digitally connected world, transparency is more important than ever.

What did you learn during your corporate career that helps you in academics?

For starters, leadership isn’t positional. It occurs at every level and in every interaction. Most importantly, it’s not just about what you do; it’s about how you do it. That is what will set us apart from others in our career. In a corporation you learn by watching, listening, doing and, often, redoing. You need mentors and advocates all along the way. Relationships matter a great deal in business. Students learn a lot of theory in college, by necessity, but to bring that theory to life they also need the practical, real-world experiences and advice to prepare them for what awaits them once they enter the business world. I think that’s what is most beneficial about our approach at Walton College. It marries together theory and practice with innovative, practical, real-world experiences that are integrated into, and extend beyond, the classroom.