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Retired CEO Still Working

October 1, 2012

The symposium is preceded by an invitation-only reception on Oct. 1, where the 2012 Herb and Karen Baum Ethics Award will be given to former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, BN’52, LW’ 54. The ethics award is given to an individual who has made substantial contributions to ethics awareness and practice in the community.

“For this inaugural award, we wanted to honor someone who set the bar quite high. Governor Ray’s experience as an executive in business, government, and nonprofit organizations is exemplary,” says Frank.

Herb Baum Brings National Leaders to Drake for Discussions on Ethics

Herb Baum, retired chairman, president, and CEO of Dial Corporation, has spent much of his retirement in pursuit of a personal mission: bringing ethics to business.

“I’ve held a long-standing belief that ethics is an important element of business. But what I saw, even before the days of Enron, was businesses trying to take shortcuts to be successful,” says Baum, who graduated from Drake’s College of Business and Public Administration in 1958. “So I decided to devote a good portion of my retirement to the issue.” 

Employing Education to Promote Business Ethics

Baum’s strategy for achieving his mission relies heavily on the educational system.

By providing the means for the teaching of applied ethics—not just theory—to business students, he hopes to influence these future employees and encourage them to bring an ethical mindset to the organizations in which they work. 

With this intent, Baum and his wife, Karen, established an endowment at Drake University in fall 2010 for the Herb and Karen Baum Chair of Ethics and the Professions. In addition to the faculty position, which will be rotated among the University’s colleges and schools, the endowment provides for the Herb and Karen Baum Symposium on Ethics and the Professions, to be held on Drake’s campus. The first symposium is scheduled for Oct. 2–3 in Olmsted Center.

The Inaugural Herb and Karen Baum Symposium on Ethics and the Professions

“The purpose of the Symposium is to stimulate discussions about ethics and integrity across campus and throughout Des Moines and the state of Iowa,” says Garry Frank, Herb and Karen Baum Chair in Ethics and the Professions, who is charged with defining and organizing the inaugural event.

The Symposium, which will bring together high-profile leaders from around the country and the world to discuss issues that shape organizational culture, extends the conversation about ethics from business to government and nonprofits. Panelists and keynote speakers for the event include prominent leaders from government, higher education, and nonprofit organizations as well as CEOs and other senior-level business executives.

“Ethics in the organizational sense is generic,” says Frank, who has taught business ethics at Drake for almost 30 years. “When our students graduate, they will work in some type of setting. Whether it’s business, government, or a nonprofit, they all present similar [ethical] challenges.”

Much of the two-day event, which is open to the public, will focus on ethics as it relates to preparing graduates for professional careers. Participants will hear from experts, contribute to panel discussions, and network with presenters and colleagues.

A Personal Investment

Baum says he is looking forward to the symposium at which he will be a panel member, but won’t know until after the event whether it is what he envisioned. His hope is that the Symposium will disseminate his message about ethics—to always do the right thing, not the easy thing—throughout multiple business and education environments.

Baum, author of The Transparent Leader: How to Build a Great Company Though Straight Talk, Openness and Accountability has been promoting ethics in business long before the topic made headlines. At one point in his career, Baum traveled to more than 25 colleges and universities across the nation where he addressed audiences on the topic of exorbitant executive pay—while he was CEO at Dial.

“I would start by saying, ‘I make too much money.’ And the students would go wild,” Baum says.

While at Dial, Baum says he urged the board of directors to hold down his pay and base it solely on performance. Since his retirement, Baum and his wife have given millions of dollars to institutions such as Drake to promote ethics in business and throughout society.

“I’m a strong believer in doing the right thing, whether it’s in public companies, government, or charities. I’m hoping these efforts will get the message out,” Baum says.