December 10, 2020

Do What's Right

Learning business ethics at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst
Fiana Herscovici ’24 (left) and Paulette Palomares ’24, winners of the undergraduate division of UMass Amherst’s annual Isenberg Ethics Competition.

Isenberg School of Management student Fiana Herscovici ’24 was pumping with adrenaline when she and her project partner Paulette Palomares ’24, completed their Zoom presentation in UMass Amherst’s annual Isenberg Ethics Competition. “There were some hard-core questions,” Herscovici recalls. “I’ve never been grilled so hard in my life.”

Herscovici, of Framingham, Massachusetts, and Palomares, of Morristown, New Jersey, won the undergraduate competitive division of the event, quite a coup for first-year students collaborating remotely. And the two, who met online in a Residential Academic Program (RAP), found the competition a wonderful way to get involved in the UMass campus, sharpen their presentation and analytical skills—and make friends.

It was the fifth year of the ethics competition, where students are presented with case materials detailing a challenging, topical ethical business situation. This year they were asked to examine a large national retail chain and decide whether the company’s CEO should benefit from windfall profits that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students also considered whether the chain’s employees should continue to receive hazard pay and stock incentives, even though the company’s competitors had stopped providing them. Competitors weighed financial, legal, and ethical issues when they presented their recommendations on these issues and argued their cases before a panel of judges.

Keynote Speaker Irv Becker ’84

Palomares and Herscovici contended that a well-paid CEO makes for a well-oiled business, but an overpaid CEO fosters an atmosphere of inequity. Armed with statistics showing the positive impact of diversity on team performance, they recommended that the company’s windfall profits be reallocated to efforts to promote diversity in the chain’s management.

They also posited that maintaining hazard pay and stock incentives would yield higher employee productivity. Herscovici applied her own experience to this question, having worked for Amazon as a Prime Now shopper at Whole Foods during summer 2020. “There were definitely moments when I was scared to be there. I was happy for the hazard pay,” she says. She came away from the job with empathy for essential workers. “As a business leader,” she says, “you create the most success when you can put yourself in the shoes of both workers and managers.”

Students competed in three divisions of the ethics competition: an undergraduate open division, an undergraduate competitive division, and a graduate competitive division. The weekend-long event, directed by Jennifer Merton, associate chair and coordinator of the law lecturers in Isenberg’s management department, also included networking and ethics workshops and panels featuring faculty and alumni. The keynote speaker was Irv Becker ’84, vice chairman in executive pay and governance at the global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry. 

As winners of the undergraduate competition, Palomares and Herscovici will compete nationally and internationally with the Isenberg Ethics team. “We now have more confidence in our ideas,” says Palomares. “From participating in this event and listening to the alumni, professors, and our fellow competitors, we’ve learned new ethical perspectives on how to make businesses better. What we are learning will be put into play in our careers.”