“When you do business overseas, are your ethics portable?,” asks Professor Lucien Dhooge. “Do they follow you to Russia or India, where bribery is often a standard business practice?”
Such questions are central to the International Business Law courses that Dhooge teaches to undergraduate and MBA students. “Once you start down that slippery slope, it’s difficult to stop and say, ‘This isn’t how we operate.’”
As shady business practices and scandals have regularly rocked Wall Street for more than a decade, business schools have increasingly recognized the need to place a stronger emphasis on ethics. Dhooge has been instrumental in positioning Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business at the forefront of this trend, in his role as the Sue and John Staton Professor of Law.
Strength in Numbers
Since joining Tech in 2008, he has helped build the Law and Ethics faculty area (of which he is coordinator) to include six tenured or tenure-track professors, plus two adjunct lecturers. Prior to Dhooge’s arrival, the only law professor on the Scheller faculty was Dean Steve Salbu, who has made educating students about ethical and sustainable business practices a priority since he arrived at Tech in 2006. Salbu recently started the Cecil B. Day Program in Business Ethics.
“The opportunity to help create not only an academic area in Law and Ethics, but also an entire curriculum has been the most rewarding part of my professional career,” says Dhooge, who came to Tech from the University of Pacific.
While the curricular focus on law ensures that students understand the rules of the road when it comes to business, the ethical component addresses how companies can go beyond the moral minimum when it comes to such issues as regulatory compliance.
Shades of Gray
Dhooge, winner of the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2012, emphasizes that he’s careful not to preach to students. “You provide the framework, make sure everyone understands the facts and allow them to conduct an analysis,” he says. “You leave it to the students to reach their own conclusions. Everyone is going to confront an ethical issue in their career, no matter what their job level.”
In his classes and research, Dhooge examines the obligations of multinationals investing in the developing world in terms of labor rights and environmental protection. “For example, many Western retailers have taken grief for sourcing their garment manufacturing to unsafe factories in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan,” he notes.
Dhooge has traveled extensively and seen eye-opening labor conditions in such areas as Egypt, Myanmar, China and Eastern Europe. “Nothing substitutes for on the ground experience,” he says.
Raised in Denver, Dhooge has had an interest in the world beyond U.S. borders for as long as he can remember. “I was the nerdy kid who collected stamps from other countries and had a fascination with maps. Going into international law was the natural evolution of that interest,” he explains.
Holding a JD from the University of Denver, Dhooge began his career working for the Federal Trade Commission for a year in antitrust law before moving into private practice (with a focus on commercial litigation). He says he caught the “teaching bug” in 1986 after an old law school roommate, an adjunct at a community college in Denver, volunteered Dhooge to lead a course on legal research and writing.
“I decided to give it a try for a semester, and I really liked it,” says Dhooge. He eventually decided to earn his Master of Laws in International and Comparative Law from Georgetown University to prepare him for a full-time academic career, which he started in 1996 at the University of the Pacific.
In the years since, his many achievements have included serving as president of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business and editor-in-chief of the American Business Law Journal. He has published several books and nearly 50 law review articles. He says he is particularly proud of the International Business Law and Its Environment textbook he co-authored (which is in use at many leading business schools).
Some of Dhooge’s research involves conflict of laws between countries and cross-boundary enforcement of judgments. One case he’s examined closely involves the $18 billion liability for environmental contamination in Ecuador that Chevron inherited when it acquired Texaco. “Where do you enforce the judgment?,” asks Dhooge, noting that Chevron currently has few assets in Ecuador, but does have assets in other locations where enforcement is being sought such as Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.
Dhooge says that, like most legal researchers, he hopes that his work makes an impact on judges and policymakers. “Law professors love research questions that arise when two courts at equal levels differ in their opinions,” he says. “I’m always looking for those kinds of disputes. I enjoy seeing where my research on such questions leads me.”