Episode 107: Cindy Moehring
In this episode of the Be EPIC Podcast, Moehring shares the importance of business integrity and her upcoming program, “Let’s Talk About Fraud.” Read More
More About This Episode
Cindy Moehring is the founder and executive chair of the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative at Walton College, which highlights the importance of business ethics and integrating these skills into Walton College classes. In this episode of the Be EPIC Podcast, Moehring shares the importance of business integrity and her upcoming program, “Let’s Talk About Fraud.”
0:00:06.5 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today.
0:00:26.7 Matt Waller: I have with me today Cindy Moehring, founder and executive chair of the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Cindy has many years of experience in ethics and compliance. In fact, she was at Walmart for 20 years and she held positions such as Senior Vice President and Global Chief Ethics Officer, and she has a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri Columbia. And she started the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative back in 2019, and she's made a tremendous amount of progress in that time. Cindy, thanks for joining me today.
0:01:18.4 Cindy Moehring: Absolutely, I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
0:01:23.1 Matt Waller: Cindy, one of the things that I wanna talk to you about today is this, "Let's Talk About Fraud."
0:01:29.6 Cindy Moehring: Yeah.
0:01:30.5 Matt Waller: A program that we're gonna be making available to students, faculty, staff, and the community of Northwest Arkansas this semester. And it's similar to another initiative you had last semester, called Let's Talk About Integrity and Race. And I'd like you to explain that, but before you do, you also have been involved in creating a number of podcast videos where, in Season 1 last semester, you interviewed academic pillars in this area of business ethics, and now you're in the new season and you're interviewing executives. And so I would like you to talk about both of those, but I also would like you to, if you wouldn't mind, give a brief overview of some of the things you've accomplished in the Walton College already. So why don't you start with maybe the basics of why you wanted to do this in the first place.
0:02:30.3 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to do this because I really think that there is a large opportunity to better educate and prepare our students at Walton College to enter what I would call a disruptive workforce, right now, in a better way, so that they are grounded in that disruption, in principles of ethics and integrity that they understand, and that can kinda be their north star as they go through their careers. And it hit me, actually through my career and most of the time being at Walmart, how many, not just young, but also mid-level managers and still even some senior-level managers would miss some of the basics, not intentionally, and in most cases it was just not really being aware or not pausing to really think holistically about the issues. And so I just see it as a real opportunity to catch students before they enter the workforce and make them more aware so that they are better able to move more quickly. And many of the things that we've done so far at Walton College have to do with a great partnership that I've had with the other academics that are there, the other staff members that are there, and many of the programs I've seen that can all come together in a way to further the educational content, but also the outreach with the community and also some research opportunities. So we really got this under way in 2020, so we've been after it, just finishing the first year.
0:04:09.0 Cindy Moehring: We were covering starting with the education part first, about 15% of the students with one upper-level course, so that was dedicated to ethics and integrity. And so what we did immediately, in coming in, was prepare content so that we could put it into some freshman-level courses so that now we're able to say, going forward, 100% of the students are being educated on ethics and integrity. We also went to the other end of the rainbow and incorporated a number of different elements of content into the MBA program and complemented some of the things that were already going on, like Gary Peters was taking a graduate-level accounting course where ethics was not required in, and he's actually making it a requirement going forward. So it's not just an elective, it's gonna be a requirement. We've got students involved in case competitions now, and we've got students figuring out how to draft their own ethical dilemmas and think about how they would solve them, and so it's really starting to pick up speed, a lot of it through the different social media channels that we're using out there.
0:05:22.4 Matt Waller: You're doing a great job of using an omnichannel approach to getting the message out. Part of the reason I really wanted this to happen, of course is that, it's so clearly in our values, we have four values in the Walton College: Excellence, professionalism, innovation, collegiality. But professionalism, the way that we define it, is we operate with integrity, humility, respect and inclusion. So integrity is right in there.
0:05:51.0 Cindy Moehring: Yes, it is.
0:05:52.0 Matt Waller: It's very explicit, but even the collegiality one, it says, "We respect each individual."
0:05:58.0 Cindy Moehring: Right.
0:06:00.0 Matt Waller: Which is part of the work of the professor at Georgetown Business School and Law School, where he argues that there's five business ethics principles that have to be established within an effective relationship to build trust, and one of them is to respect everyone's autonomy. But back to why I was interested in seeing this come about. When I became dean back in 2015, I went around and talked to alumni, most successful alumni, and said, "What would make you more proud of the Walton College?" I got a lot of different answers, but one common one I got was, "I'd like to see Business Ethics be more prominent in what you're doing as a college." And so when you became available to do something like this, it really addressed this issue. And I think I would say, even though it's only been a short time, I really consider it a success.
0:07:03.0 Cindy Moehring: Well, thank you.
0:07:04.0 Matt Waller: I mean, I think we've got a lot more, you've got great ideas and I'm excited about those. And we had talked about, early on Cindy, that we would like the Walton College to be thought of when you think about business ethics.
0:07:21.0 Cindy Moehring: Yeah.
0:07:22.5 Matt Waller: And amongst business schools, when you think about International Business, South Carolina is one that really comes to mind. When you think about entrepreneurship, Babson comes to mind. We are real strong in supply chain management, of course, already, and just recently got ranked number one by Gartner, our undergraduate program did. But I really would like to see, within a short period of time, that people really think of the Walton College when they think about business ethics. And you have really set us on a path to get there, and so that's one of the reasons why I wanted to interview you for this, but if you wouldn't mind giving a little bit of an overview of what you've been doing and how you're doing it, that would be great.
0:08:07.5 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, so we've got several different initiatives under way, in addition to the content for the courses. Before I leave the education and the content for the courses, we are working right now with the curriculum committee on a proposed potentially required course that would cover ethics and integrity for all Walton College students. So I'm excited to see that potentially come to life and it would cover diversity and multicultural issues as well, so it could be a really important social and ethical course for all of our students to take. But in addition to that we're providing all kinds of thought leadership to not only the students, but the business community out there through a number of different channels, writing lots of blogs for Walton Insights, doing a video and a podcast series, and then we're doing some programming, "Let's Talk," is what we've called it, that are gonna center around each of the individual sort of basic principles of business ethics. And so, for example, last fall we did do the program, "Let's Talk About Integrity and Race," obviously race is a big issue that we're still struggling with in this country, and we scratched that scab again, I think, after the death of George Floyd and felt that the opportunity was there and the need was there to make students and the community more aware of just how to talk about these kinds of issues so that we can come together as a community better.
0:09:38.9 Cindy Moehring: All of this programming is designed as well, Matt, around the student success career readiness competency badges, so that not only is the programming that our initiative is developing being incorporated into courses, which is so exciting to see, because it creates that integration of ethics and integrity sort of across the business school curriculum, but in addition to that students are able to get these explicit career readiness competency badges for participating in the programming. So they can get these semester-long, small, very achievable badges for the, "Let's Talk" programming. They can also get the larger business integrity student success badge for career readiness around business integrity. And to your point, there's not an employer out there that doesn't want to be able to hire somebody that they know understands how to both act and lead with integrity, and has spent time and effort exploring what that means. So what a great way for a student to be able to separate themselves from the pack, a Walton College student, by walking in with an explicit statement that they've put time and effort into understanding what Business Integrity is. They will absolutely separate themselves from the pack of other students who may be going after that same job and really make themselves stand out with those badges.
0:11:13.1 Matt Waller: And I think it may, in some cases, give them happier, more fulfilling lives, because one of the books that you came up with for this, "Let's Talk About Fraud" is "Why They Do It." When I first got it in the mail and I saw how thick it was, I thought, "Oh no, when am I gonna have time to read this?" And I started reading it and I couldn't set it down, and I'm probably about a third of the way through it. The author talks a lot about the history and stuff in the early sections, and I don't wanna get too far into that quite yet, but my point is that in reading that first third it became even more clear to me that our students really need to understand this.
0:12:00.9 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, so let's take a step back and talk about, "Let's Talk About Fraud," which is part of a larger, "Let's Talk" three-year program that we're gonna be doing with programming every semester. So last fall, like I said, it was, "Let's Talk About Integrity and Race," this spring it's gonna be, "Let's Talk About Fraud," and then we've got four more semesters worth of programming that will be, "Let's Talk About," for example, "Ethical AI," "Let's Talk About Forced Labor," which is another one. And then, "Let's Talk About Keeping Your Word," which is tied to honoring contracts. So we're gonna cover all of the basic ethics principles and go deep on them, but this semester it's, "Let's Talk About Fraud." And so every "Let's Talk" program is going to revolve around a book of the semester, speakers, and a workshop. And so the book, as you just mentioned, for this semester is by Eugene Soltes, who's a professor at Harvard, called, "Why They Do It: Inside the Mind of a White Collar Criminal." And the book, don't scare people off by saying it's really long, there's a big section at the end of it that's all of his... The sites and the resources that he used for the book, so that doesn't count. [laughter]
0:13:13.9 Matt Waller: I think that's true. I've read books that were a tenth that long and they felt harder to read.
0:13:21.6 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, and it's about, over years, his experience of interviewing like 50 senior executives to figure out really why they did it. And I don't wanna give away the whole punchline, but it's a super interesting read. But while you may think it's set up for some sinister plot and it was all thought out in advance, the most important thing that I think students are gonna get from reading the book is understanding that it really is just this mundane sequence of what could be described as everyday decisions, that if you don't pause and think about it you just get this malaise that comes over and you can find yourself ending up as a white collar criminal when you really thought you were just working through a series of mundane everyday decisions. I also, Matt, by the way, had an opportunity to interview him for my podcast and video series, and there's a very special surprise in that upcoming podcast video series where we actually play video of his conversation with Bernie Madoff, when Bernie Madoff is in jail. He used to have 15-minute conversations with Bernie Madoff.
0:14:30.1 Matt Waller: Oh my goodness.
0:14:30.2 Cindy Moehring: Collect the calls every week. And in Bernie's own words explaining why he did it. So that's gonna be a super interesting podcast and video when that comes out. But anyway, so we have a book of the semester that students and members of the community, faculty, and staff can read, listen to some speakers, with the author being one of them. This semester we also have two convicted criminals who are gonna come speak about their experience, as well as a white collar criminal defense attorney who used to be at the Department of Justice. So we're gonna cover all the angles in the "Let's Talk" program about fraud this semester, and students can actually get that "Let's Talk About Fraud" badge by attending two of the speakers, reading the book, and attending the workshop, and then they have to upload into this app that we use called Suitable, what their main takeaways are from each of those events.
0:15:19.0 Cindy Moehring: And members of the community, and I know you said it's for the Northwest Arkansas community, but honestly it's for the global community, because all of this programming that we're doing right now, given Covid, but actually I think it's a great advancement, is all gonna be done online via Zoom. So there's literally nobody that couldn't find a way to take advantage of this. And for the community, what we're doing is saying, if you participate, listen to all four speakers, attend the workshop, and read the book and provide your main takeaways from that, you can also get an E-certificate, if you will, from the University, from Walton College, that you can display on your LinkedIn profile. So we're finding ways with this programming to really serve not just the students, but the ongoing business community that's out there, and not just in Northwest Arkansas, but in the state and in the region and in the country and in the world.
0:16:13.3 Matt Waller: The first part of the mission statement of the Walton College is that the Walton College is to be about creating and disseminating business knowledge, that's kind of like the core part of the mission. I really feel like this is one area that we had not been doing a great job, in terms of developing and disseminating business knowledge, but it really... As I mentioned earlier, it clearly ties to the values but it also ties to the vision to be thought leaders and catalysts for transforming lives. And I think that, clearly, I think what you're doing is putting forth the thought leadership on this and leadership, as I said, I really think after, even going through the first third of this book, I'm more convinced that, wow, this is really important for business students to know.
0:17:13.3 Matt Waller: So Cindy, when you think about the seasons you've created already, and I know originally I said Season 1 and Season 2, I forgot the season I did with you at the very beginning. I didn't count myself as a real season, I count it as season zero. But it was really good, and I know we did that together, but I learned a lot from it because I don't know if you remember, but during that time I was every day looking for articles in Wall Street Journal that talked about violations of those five principles that we had discussed, and then I would make a tweet storm about them, something I had never done and something I've never done since, but it forced me to really think about it. But it gets to your point of, "You need to take time to really think about these things."
0:18:12.0 Cindy Moehring: Yeah. You do. It's really interesting. One of my mentors along the way shared with me something that someone had shared with him, which really has stuck with me, and it's thinking about business ethics in this way, in rooms where surgeons go in to perform all kinds of different surgeries, one of the last signs that they see before they go into the room is a reminder to wash their hands. Very simple, just a reminder to wash their hands and make sure that they're very clean. The reason why is because if they don't do that very simple thing, disastrous consequences can occur. And so equating sort of thinking about business ethics, it's like before you walk into any sort of business transaction discussion, you need to have that mental reminder of, "Wash your hands," like "Think about business ethics." Because if not, and you just forget about it, it goes back to what Eugene is saying in his book, that it becomes this just mundane sequence of everyday decisions that you don't realize you're forgetting to think about. It's remembering the simple stuff sometimes, and at least thinking about it and being aware of it so that you can avoid disastrous consequences.
0:19:26.6 Matt Waller: So Cindy, you earlier were talking about the program you have for this semester that's open to students, faculty, staff, and the world at large, and it sounds like an interesting lineup, hearing from a couple of white collar criminals who have been in prison, a criminal defense attorney, the author of the book "Why They Do It," and having a workshop. All these things sound really interesting, but listeners may want to know a little bit more of the logistics. Would you mind talking about that a little bit?
0:20:02.6 Cindy Moehring: Yeah, so where can you go to find out information about the program? Well you can go to the website for Walton College, the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative. And that is, if you go to Walton.uark.edu/business-integrity, it will take you to the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative. So again, it's Walton.uark.edu/business-integrity. And there's a banner at the top that says, "Let's Talk About Fraud," you click there and it takes you to the information sheet, gives you the lineup for all of the speakers, so they start on January 27th with Walt Pavlo, who was involved in the MCI accounting scandal, that is familiar to... Can remember that in the early 2000s. And then we've got another speaker on February 17th, that's Richard Bistrong, who is another convicted criminal who got caught up in the UN food for oil scandal, then there's a program on March 3rd, another one on March 17th, and then we conclude on April 7th with the workshop. If you go to the website, there's actually links right there where you can register for all of the programs. We can seat up to about 3000, and I would encourage everybody to sign up early because we are going to open it up, we're gonna build on what we had last semester where we had over a thousand people register for our "Let's Talk About Race" event, where we heard from Ijeoma Oluo and the author of "So You Wanna Talk About Race."
0:21:39.0 Cindy Moehring: So we're gonna continue to build on that. Encourage everybody to go to the website and sign up for the program, please register early so that you are in there and have your seat, and look forward to seeing everybody there. I think it's gonna be a really, really interesting spring semester. We will also be taping, for those who can't attend live, each of those events. Some of them will only be up for a very limited period of time, but we want to make sure that we are innovating on how we reach everybody, Matt. So all events are at 6:00 PM, they will last for an hour and they will be including a live Q and A, so you'll want to come live if you can.
0:22:15.0 Matt Waller: And that's 6:00 PM Central Time.
0:22:17.3 Cindy Moehring: 6:00 PM Central Time. Yes, exactly.
0:22:20.0 Matt Waller: The center of all time.
0:22:22.1 Cindy Moehring: That's right.
0:22:24.0 Matt Waller: Well, Cindy, thank you so much for what you're doing for business and bringing a knowledge of Business Integrity and ethics to the community. So, appreciate you taking time.
0:22:37.1 Cindy Moehring: You bet. Thanks for having me Matt.
0:22:43.5 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC Podcast, from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching BeEPIC Podcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic.