Dr. Laszlo Zsolnai, a leading expert in the field of business ethics, is spending the spring semester at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies as part of the Zuzana Simoniova Cmelikova Visiting Scholar Program in Leadership and Ethics. The program, made possible by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Ukrop, is named in honor of Robert Ukrop’s cousin from Slovakia, who was a resident scholar at the Jepson School in 2007.

Zsolnai is a professor of business administration at Corvinus University of Budapest and director of the university’s Business Ethics Center. Below he discusses his research, which takes ecology, future generations and social responsibility into consideration when it comes to scrutinizing choices business leaders make. He argues that leadership choices should contribute to the restoration of nature, increase the freedom of future generations and serve the well-being of society. 


Why were you interested in being a visiting scholar at the Jepson School?

My field is business ethics and the Jepson School is famous for its ethics and leadership research track. I am interested in developing links between leadership and business ethics. Also, I am interested in the history and culture of Virginia. My stay in Richmond nicely complements my previous experience in California at the University of California, Berkeley and in Washington, D.C. at Georgetown University. 

How did you become interested in business leadership?

For decades business ethics has been focused on rules and principles but it became obvious that the personality and value commitment of leaders are crucial in developing the ethical culture of business. Behind outstanding ethicality in business usually there is some extra motivation of the leader, spiritual or religious conviction, ecological or social engagement and the like. Without exceptional leaders we cannot change the self-interest dominated culture of today’s business.     

Please summarize your current research on responsible leadership.

My current research addresses the problems of responsible leadership in a business context. The conventional notion of economic rationality is usually in conflict with responsibility. But responsible leadership is consistent with the conception of reason advocated by Amartya Sen. Reason is the discipline of subjecting one’s choice of action as well as objectives, values and priorities to reasoned scrutiny. I identify three classes of reason to scrutinize leadership choices. I argue that leadership choices should pass the test of ecological reason, reason for future generations and social reason. These criteria require that leadership choices contribute to the restoration of nature, increase the freedom of future generations, and serve the well-being of society. 

Are there practical models that illustrate responsibility in business leadership?

There are successful businesses in the USA, Europe and Asia which function in ecologically sustainable, future-respecting and pro-social ways. Think of companies which are members of the Social Venture Network or the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. These companies practice holistic value creation, developing practical solutions which serve nature, future generations and society at large.

Why is responsible leadership in business so important?

Responsible leadership is badly needed in today’s business. Mainstream leadership practices are self-centered – both in the individual and collective sense. They produce largely negative impacts for nature, future generations and society. Responsibility requires that leaders consider all the relevant value dimensions of the choice situation, evaluate the available alternatives in adequate scales of measurement and block tradeoffs among non-substitutable values.