OtterBox Ethics Scholars Champion Business for Good

OtterBox Ethics Challenge Winners
OtterBox mentor, Doug Kempel, left, joins members of winning team The Right Choice, Manuel Hernandez, Tori Chao, Camille Heard, Katherine Laine, from left.

Four College of Business undergraduates named OtterBox Ethics Scholars Nov. 30 will take away more than a full year’s scholarship from the competition: They will enter the job market with a sharpened commitment to making ethical choices.

“Already, I think of ethical things every day,” Management major Tori Chao said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s something that might not be ethical.’ There are always ethical decisions you have to make, even if they’re small. I’m definitely starting to recognize that more.”

Each member of Chao’s team – Manuel Hernandez, Katherine Laine and Camille Heard – will receive a full year scholarship for in-state tuition from sponsors Otter Products. Members of second- and third-place teams receive $1,000 and $500 scholarships, respectively.

Chao’s team, “The Right Choice,” rose to the top after a two-round, six-week competition that called on the ethical decision-making processes. The competition kicked off Oct. 12, as 28 teams of four students were given a case study that focused on charges of bribery and questionable charitable giving tactics from an aeronautics company. Teams received two weeks to analyze the problem, develop a strategy and develop a written plan.

The ten teams with the strongest plan advanced to a second round, which included analysis of a research funding’s operations, to be presented to a panel of judges Nov. 30. On the day of the presentation, the competition dealt a twist to the challenge, with charges of board-level impropriety unearthed during their audit. The new information required teams to think on their feet and adjust their recommendations on the fly.

It was that intense attention to ethical decision making over a month and a half that led Chao to internalize the process and begin viewing everyday situations through an ethically aware lens. That outcome was exactly what Otter Products hoped to achieve with the event.

“We are thrilled with the time students spent thinking through their own personal ethics and working through solutions to real life problems,” Jim Parke, Otter Products CEO said. “Hopefully each participant will be better prepared to face the ethically ambiguous situations that they will encounter in the future.”

The College’s drive to use business as a force for good in the world made it a natural partner with Otter Products for an ethics initiative. Otter Products has developed a culture where ethics and profitability are equally important components for the company’s sustainability, and matched employees well versed in navigating ethical business concerns to serve as mentors with each of the ten teams in the final round.

In addition to students and OtterBox mentors, the competition relied on a panel of judges drawn from Northern Colorado businesses. Aaron Finch of Richardson-Finch Manufacturing, restaurateur Ryan Houdek, and the Neenan Company’s David Shigekane and Donna Smith lent their experience to evaluate pitches on the event’s final day. For Parke, the opportunity to connect with College of Business students was a major benefit for mentors and judges alike.

“My favorite part of the competition was the one-to-one interaction with the participants,” Parke said. “CSU has such talented students, and its alumni play a pivotal role in our business.  Any opportunity that we get to invest our time with CSU is an absolute pleasure.”

After being named an OtterBox Ethics Scholar, Chao isn’t merely thinking about ethics in her daily life: It’s become a driving point in her as she puts together plans following graduation. She started considering future employers based partially on their commitment to ethical business practices and has already chatted with employers about her experience in the competition.

Most importantly, the event gave Chao and the other competitors a valuable opportunity to take their knowledge out of the classroom and put it into practice.

“I’m always in classes and just asked to learn things for a test,” Chao said, “but actually using it in a real-world situation made it seem like the things I’m learning in the Business school are going to come in handy at some point in my career, which makes me really confident that I’m going in the right direction with that.”