Dean's Seminar Focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility
Michigan alumnus Tom Miller commends the Ross School for tackling ethics.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Tom Miller, CEO of Plan, an international child-centered development organization, recently spoke at a Dean's Seminar with Ross School MBA students, alumni, faculty and staff.
Miller focused on the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which he described as a partnership between the nonprofit and corporate sectors, and Plan's development work in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
"We as a planet aren't doing as much as we should. The whole world has changed and the biggest challenge is communicating complex development issues," he said. He also commended the Ross School for tackling the ethical dimension of business.
He discussed a recent New York Times article on the debate to add skyboxes to Michigan Stadium. "If I could take some of that energy and bottle it, we could save lives," he said.
Miller outlined the benefits of non-government organizations (NGOs)—private organizations that promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services or undertake community development—and companies.
According to Miller, NGOs benefit from partnering with a company by achieving brand awareness and income, becoming a vehicle for influencing policy and maintaining responsibility to the company they are associated with. "We all need to be pushed sometimes and corporations help keep us accountable," he said.
For companies, Miller said there are five benefits to partnering with NGOs: customer loyalty, staff retention, better environmental performance and brand profile, and an improved bottom line.
Miller concluded by saying that to conduct CSR with the private sector, you must find the right match and have standards to measure each other's performance. "It requires a continuous dialogue to make the best match. Companies look for organizations with a proven track record and want to see that the money is being used at the grassroots level," he added.
During the Q/A, Ross School alumnus Ron Weiser, BBA '66, told the audience that a corporation is the people in it and the level of CSR it has comes from the top. "A corporation doesn't have CSR; the people do. You have to start with children to lead that cultural change," he said.
Miller added that the idea of what makes a good CEO has changed and cited Bill Gates as an example. "When I was growing up, it was about the bottom line," he said.
Before retiring in 2004, Miller spent 29 years in the U.S. Foreign Service working on policy issues in the Balkans, Middle East and Southeast Asia. He served at the U.S. Embassy in Athens three times, including as U.S. Ambassador to Greece in 2001-2004.
Miller has taught university courses on international relations and diplomacy and serves on the Boards of D.A.R.E. and the 2009 Sarajevo Special Olympics.
He earned his B.A., two master's degrees and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan.
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