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The Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School


Founded in 2003, the center aims to promote ethics in business school curriculum and to develop innovative cases and research in ethics, leadership, and governance.

The Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics, founded in May 2003, is the umbrella for all activities on leadership and ethics at Columbia Business School.

The Center was made possible by a generous gift from the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Foundation. The foundation's parent, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., was established in 1967 by the late Sanford Bernstein, a paragon of the highest standards of his profession.

An investment manager, Bernstein opened the first securities firm dedicated to providing families and individuals with professional money-management services. As the mission grew to include investment research and institutional asset management, the firm flourished while emphasizing the highest ethical and professional standards.

This exemplary standard of quality and ethics has endured, and today Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. is part of Alliance Bernstein L.P., one of the most respected firms on Wall Street. Both names symbolize excellence, trustworthiness, discipline, independence and objectivity.


The mission of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics is to be a globally recognized locus for the promotion of ethics in the curriculum of business schools and the development of innovative cases and research on ethics, leadership and governance. The Center engages students, faculty and the outside community through a variety of endowed speaker series and through broad consultation to integrate ethics into the core classes taught to all MBA and EMBA students at Columbia. Through the creation of new teaching material and the funding of research, the Center provides students with frameworks and tools to think critically about ethical conflicts and trade-offs in order that they will be better prepared for their future careers.

Focus areas

The Center's activities, including the Individual, Business, and Society curriculum, focus on three broad themes:

  • Corporate Governance: Governance is ultimately about fairness and the processes and systems by which a corporation is directed to achieve this outcome. The study and teaching of governance include the workings and organizational dynamics of boards of directors and the distribution of rights and responsibilities among auditors, boards, executives, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders in specific national and industrial contexts. Topics include the role of boards in public corporations, the challenges of governance in partnerships and venture capital contracts and in varied national contexts, the responsibilities of senior executive decision-making processes, transparency and reporting, executive compensation and strategic risk management and the impact of ethics and corruption on social welfare and economic development;
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): the integration by companies of their social and environmental concerns in their business strategies and operations and in their interaction with stakeholders. Topics include the social and environmental impact of business operations, business conducted in emerging markets, corruption, society's expectations of business and business leaders and the relationship between stakeholders and shareholder value. Above all, the study of CSR has shifted from the question of whether a firm should do this to how can socially responsible strategies be designed to be most effective; and
  • Values-Based Leadership: the relationship between the individual's values and the firm. Topics include the engagement of individuals in actively promoting and protecting integrity in the workplace, values-based leadership, corporate crime and the difficulty of blowing the whistle, the importance of recognizing the moment of ethical choice and avoiding the "slippery slope."

These themes are interrelated. Responsible corporate governance and corporate conduct ultimately rely on the integrity of managers and boards. Creating an organization that promotes and protects individual integrity is a corporate responsibility. Balancing the sometimes competing interests of shareholders and other stakeholders raises questions of corporate governance.


  • Donald C. Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise in the Faculty of Business, Professor of International and Public Affairs
  • Dean, Columbia Business School, Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics
  • Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Professor of Leadership and Ethics, Professor of Sociology