Preparing the MBA for Ethical Business Leadership

Now in its second decade, the McGowan Fellows Program is continuing its efforts to prepare MBA students for ethical leadership in American business. One of the most prestigious scholarships in business education, the McGowan Fellowship Program was established in 2010 by the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, at least in part due to ethical failures or business leaders.

The McGowan Fellowship Program aims to address this issue by helping to shape outstanding MBA students into business leaders who “consider social impact and shareholder value in their decisions.”

As a result of participating in the program, McGowan Fellows should develop new perspectives on the responsibilities and potential of business leadership. As they build their careers, they are expected to perform key aspects of ethical leadership and an organizational ethos committed to the betterment of society.

Only ten McGowan Fellows are nominated each year.Everyone is an outstanding MBA student, admitted and selected by ten of the nation’s leading business schools and ranked in the top 25 national business schools US News or Work Week.

Candidates are selected by their graduate business schools after their first MBA year. In addition to outstanding academic achievement (ranking in the top 5% of their class), fellows must also demonstrate strong leadership skills. Candidate submissions include essays on topics such as the biggest challenges facing future business leaders and how industry leaders can address business challenges within a financially viable and socially responsible framework.

The 2023 students begin their one-year program in August. Here are ten fellows:

Rebecca Bells, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University;

Conor Bellows, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University;

Patrick Nguyen BurdenStephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan;

Christopher DetrickColumbia Business School;

Grace GraceThe Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania;

Pravin Kumar KrishnamurtiDarden School of Business, University of Virginia;

Eric Saldana. McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University;

Adiya SamantFuqua School of Business, Duke University;

GorisethMIT Sloan School of Management;

Kathryn Wetlinski, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College;

A list of past McGowan Fellows can be found here.

In addition to offering students full tuition for the second year of the MBA program, the program emphasizes experiential, values-based leadership training.​​​ Throughout the award year, fellows are involved in:

  • A principled leadership development program that emphasizes leadership training at the Center for Creative Leadership and one-on-one values ​​mentoring with McGowan alumni.
  • The annual McGowan Business Leadership and Ethics Symposium focuses on pressing ethical issues and ethical decision-making in business and society. The 2022 symposium, titled “The Real Future,” is hosted by Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
  • A problem-solving social impact program that requires fellows to address complex social issues and collaborate with organizations working to address them. Students spend an average of 2-3 hours per week on their work. This year’s program focuses on the intersection of work and homelessness.
  • In winter retreats (time commitment: 2.5 days) and spring retreats (2.5-3 days), fellows will continue their leadership training and work on social impact projects.

To reinforce the importance of ethical leadership and capitalize on its greater impact on MBA education, the William G. McGowan Charitable Foundation has awarded its first McGowan Fund Fellows Program Ethical Leadership Award to Charles F. Lowrey, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Prudential Financial. The award was presented in June at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2022 Annual Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

Following the award, Lowrey said: “The McGowan Fund has been commended for its efforts to highlight the enduring importance of ethical leadership in business, especially as trust in leaders and institutions continues to erode around the world.”

Raising the profile of the program is designed to send a clear message: every MBA program should foster principled, values-based leadership in its students.​​​ More and more corporate boards are expecting their executive leadership to think beyond just the value they bring to shareholders or direct customers. They need to consider how their company affects the widest possible range of stakeholders in society.

These principles are sometimes referred to as “conscious capitalism.” Diana Spencer, executive director of the McGowan Fund, believes that when capitalism is practiced ethically and consciously, it should do more than profit, it should enhance humanity by aiming for a higher purpose, It also takes into account the wider needs of society and builds a culture of trust and accountability for all it serves.

Now, the task becomes a follow-up question. Now is the time for MBA programs across the country to mandate that ethical leadership principles be incorporated into their curricula so that a wider range of students can prepare for the redefined “business-as-usual” expectations of future business leaders.


The McGowan Fellows Program is designed to honor and embody the values ​​of William McGowan, whose scholarship made it possible for him to attend Harvard Business School. A venture capitalist, McGowan founded and served as CEO of MCI while he built emerging communications networks. As chairman, McGowan raised capital for the growing company and established the many regional operators that form the foundation of MCI Communications’ network. During his 24 years as head of MCI, McGowan transformed the company into a $9.5 billion telecom giant.

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