Senior business executives say values worth the risk

February 3, 2012

CVLD Director Jim Ludema, Ph.D., speaks during an executive leadership roundtable. 

Lisle, Illinois~ With Occupy Wall Street protests driving the demand for reforms within financial institutions, and economics and value alignment at the forefront of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, business leaders are looking beyond board rooms toward innovative solutions to becoming profitable companies that also maintain a socially-responsible connection to the world around it.

So instead of brainstorming conferences on Maui beaches, some senior leaders are traveling to Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL) to increase their knowledge for creating sustainable organizations that transform society.
When most people take a weekend trip that is hundreds of miles away, it is often for a recreational gathering. However, one weekend a month business executives from all over Northern America, including Canada, travel to a suburban Chicago university to learn how to do business the right way by learning how to meet strategic business goals without making ethical compromises.

Just as taxpayers are demanding better representation from its government, society is demanding better conduct from businesses. In the wake of numerous billion-dollar corporate scandals from MCI WorldCom, Enron to the Maddoff ponzi scam and the banking and real estate industry collapses, the demand for values-driven leadership has skyrocketed and the CVDL is answering the call.

Senior leaders travel to Benedictine’s CVDL to increase their knowledge for creating sustainable organizations that transform society through values-driven leadership. Based in Lisle, Ill., just outside of Chicago, the CVDL at Benedictine is the first university program in the world to offer a doctorate in Values-Driven Leadership.

From a feel-good and financial perspective, values-driven leadership gets lots of accolades as being good for society and good for profits. Research by groups like Ehisphere shows that the fastest growing and most successful companies today have values at the center of their success. Companies like Accenture, Google and Zappos set the standard for being successful corporations that emphasize organizational values and culture and where its leaders walk the talk.

Benedictine’s CVDL instructs senior leaders who are pursuing the Doctor of Philosophy/Doctor of Business Administration (Ph.D./D.B.A.) in Values-Driven Leadership. The degrees are specifically designed for senior leaders committed to using the creativity and discipline of business to create short-term and long-term shareholder value, enrich people’s lives, and produce products and services that benefit society and contribute to the health and sustainability of the planet.
Business leaders quickly exhausted all available spots in the first cohort offered in April 2011. Future cohorts are offered every two years with applications for the 2013 cohort accepted in November 2012.
What does it mean to have values-driven leadership? The CVDL defines it as “a conscious commitment by leaders at all levels to lead with their values and create a corporate culture that optimizes financial performance, ethical practice, social contribution and environmental impact.”
 “Just as they focus on ways their companies can increase efficiency and profit margins, CEOs increasingly are considering how they can leverage their companies’ expertise to create societal or environmental good,” said Jennifer Reed of Success Magazine. Reed’s article “Business with Heart,” examines how major corporations worldwide have put social responsibility equal to profitability.

Today consumers are far savvier and can get past the public relations stunts and corporate sponsorships and donations and delve into all relationships of a corporation. Thus, along with quality products and service, corporations big and small must create a culture of values that consumers find appealing and that leaders are living and not merely providing window-dressing.

“In talking with our students and companies around Chicago and the country, what they keep saying is we know that being a values-driven company benefits society and it actually leads to higher profits, but what they don’t know is how you get there. How do you do it? How do you change your organization to be a values-driven socially responsible company or a highly sustainable organization and that is the question that we answer through the CVDL,” said James Ludema, Ph.D., CVDL co-founder and director.

Ludema says the CVDL is uniquely qualified to train national and international leaders in this process namely because of Benedictine’s internationally-recognized Ph.D. program in Organization Development, which was used as the basis for the Ph.D./D.B.A. program, which is a perfect complement to Benedictine University’s values and mission to provide a high-quality, values-centered education.

Although there are other management leadership and sustainability Ph.D. and D.B.A. programs around the country, Benedictine is the only program globally to combine leadership sustainability and organizational change specifically for senior executives who after completing the program aim to take their organizations to the next level of success.
With the 2012 presidential election looming, personal and business conduct is highly scrutinized among not only potential candidates but their staff, family and business relationships. Politicians are not the only ones who understand that values-based leadership is a win-win model.

More than a dozen long-term studies investigating the relationship between people practices, profit and customer satisfaction have consistently found that companies with the best people practices have profit margins two to three times higher than those with less progressive practices.

Inc. Magazine ranks the fastest growing private companies in America. Among these rankings are companies that put values-driven leadership at the forefront of their business model.

Pittsburgh-based Newton Consulting, named among Inc.’s list of fastest growing American companies, experienced a 67 percent revenue growth rate from 2007 to 2010 and a 266 percent revenue growth rate from 2006 to 2009. The secret to Newton’s success is not within some new top-secret cyber technology, but in its decision to be a values-driven consulting firm, says Newton Consulting President Rick Newton.

“We’ve endeavored to create an environment that is customer-centric, operated by values, and strives for work-family balance, while providing a compensation model based on pay for performance with shared risk and reward, an excellent benefits package, and flexible work arrangements when possible. It is one of my greatest satisfactions to see that a company like this can, not only survive, but thrive in the marketplace,” Newton said.

Speaking to the Asia Society in New York, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh states that humility is a core value it looks for in its hiring process. In fact, it investigates applicant behavior away from the interviews. Candidates interviewing for positions with Zappos are picked up by the company shuttle and if Zappos management finds a candidate has been disrespectful to the shuttle driver, Zappos will not hire them.

Hsieh, who has also authored the book “Delivering Happiness,” which espouses the benefits of values-driven leadership as leading to financial success and personal happiness, is finding scholarly support for the benefits of values-driven leadership. An article in The Journal of Values Based Leadership by Charles Millick, assistant professor of Management in the Department of Business at Wheeling Jesuit University, finds that organizational success is rooted in its ability to transform its character through the integration of positive thought among employees.

“This process is accomplished by integrating vision, energizing spirit, encouraging life-long learning, developing trust, seizing opportunities, stimulating employees to use their talents beyond those merely comprising the job description, and elevating unquestioned integrity. Fulfillment of these goals produces a flourishing, ‘happy’ enterprise,” Millick said. “When employees are actively engaged in an organization, customers are happier, productivity is up, turnover is low and the organization is financially productive and profitable.” Millick basically has laid out the foundation of business models for some of the world’s most successful companies who are often reported in Fortune Magazine’s list of best companies to work for.

Current students in Benedictine’s Ph.D./D.B.A. programs include chief executive officers from small to medium corporations and senior executives from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Cellular, Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as specialty technology, healthcare and management consulting firms. Graduates of Benedictine’s Ph.D./D.B.A. programs, which include an annual 8-day intensive study, are expected to complete the program in three years and be leading innovators in socially-responsible and sustainable corporate change in careers as senior leaders, consultants and educators.

“The program is life-changing. It gives them a whole new perspective, tools and capacity, and body of knowledge to be more effective leaders and connects them with networks of senior leaders from around the globe to create new partnerships and in some ways create new businesses,” Ludema said.

CVDL advisory board member Michael Mantel, Ph.D., knows about changing the lives of people for the better. As president and CEO of Living Water International, he leads an organization dedicated to easing the global water crisis while addressing root causes such as injustice, oppression and poverty.
“I support the CVDL because it is anticipatory and visionary. It will improve how we contribute in business and for society and the world,” Mantel said. “It will make a case for increased product value, impact and profits by helping our organizations align our operations more closely with our organizational values.”

Senior leaders can take advantage of the CVDL’s “great research and cutting-edge thinking” within learning teams that build upon “constructive dialogue about the values for which we invest our lives,” Mantel said.

So the facts are in: Values-driven leadership is profitable, good for employees and customers and maybe even fun. More consumers must demand corporate accountability to drive the future of business where values-driven leadership is not a trend but a requirement.


Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission ( For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, or visit

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