Relating Business Ethics to the Real World

yordy and snell the real 470
Associate Dean Eric Yordy (right) and NAU business student Taylor Snell met weekly to review their case study in ethical business practices. Photo: Emily Litvack.

When Eric Yordy, Associate Dean of The W. A. Franke College of  Business, decided to create an internship through NAU’s Interns-to-Scholars (I2S) program in spring of 2013, he didn’t know what to expect—but he was clear about his area of interest.

In 2010, Yordy had published an ethical decision-making model that guides students through the process of thinking critically about business-related decisions. He has been applying it to case studies ever since. He figured that having a student work with him on the next case would be mutually beneficial, so he submitted an internship proposal to the I2S programs committee. The proposal was accepted, and after interviewing several candidates, Yordy selected Taylor Snell, a business management major (class of 2015). Snell was enrolled in Yordy’s business law class, and he felt that it would be “a good way to relate business ethics to something in the real world.”

Student takes lead on the project

Yordy decided to give Snell the lead on the project. The first step was for Snell to come up with the case they would spend the rest of the semester studying. “I knew I wanted to study something in sports management, because that’s what I’m interested in,” recalls Snell, “but finding a case that we could relate to business ethics was probably the hardest part of the project.”  Snell found a news article about the University of Phoenix Stadium’s concessions contract that sparked his interest. Yordy approved of the choice: “It was an interesting story, and one I would have never found without [Taylor].”

According to their case study report, the stadium’s CEO, Tom Sadler, “. . . faced a politically tricky and complicated situation: The contract for concessions at the stadium was about to expire, and Tom had to select a vendor to take on that role. That vendor would have to run a huge concessions operation, and that required experience. Several experienced companies were likely to bid, but one of the likely competitors was a brand-new company, Rojo Hospitality, owned by the owners of the Arizona Cardinals. With more experienced companies potentially bidding, but with the Cardinals serving as the primary client of the stadium, Tom faced a tough decision.” 

Sadler awarded the contract to Rojo Hospitality, and received a lot of bad press for his decision; critics claimed he favored Rojo Hospitality because the company is owned by a client, rather than making his choice based on the company’s merit.  Yordy explains that the situation was far more complex than the general public was led to believe at the time. For example, the decision was not made before all bidders were thoroughly considered, and Sadler believed his choice to be the best business decision.

“It was an interesting story, and one I would have never found without [Taylor].” 

When asked how Sadler’s decision fared within the ethical decision-making model, Yordy laughed and said, “Working on this project, it really wasn’t so much about coming up with a conclusion as it was about working through the process.”

Research fosters critical thinking

He and Snell met weekly for half an hour to discuss progress made or roadblocks hit along the way. Yordy believes that this type of working relationship fostered a scholarly mindset in Snell. He said, “The most rewarding thing was helping him take his interest [. . .] and turn it into something tangible. Sometimes when we were talking, I could see connections being made that we don’t always get a chance to make in class.” Yordy also feels that research fosters critical thinking.

Snell echoed many of Yordy’s thoughts on the value of research. He said, “Now I really know what to look for when it comes to getting information for projects in class. [This internship] has been helpful to me in that way. If you’re curious about something, I think getting involved in research is a really good way to find out more about it.”  

   --Emily Litvack