Business ethics has a long history at the University of St.Gallen. Prior to the launch of the Institute, it played an increasingly important role in teaching and research, though still confined to individual scholars and academic work groups. The institutionalization of the subject started in 1977, when a motion on business ethics was introduced in the Kollegienrat (the Parliament of the Catholic Community in the Canton of St.Gallen).1 The motion led to the establishment of a biconfessional commission which in 1981 published a report on “the promotion of social and business ethics at the University of St.Gallen”.2 The university's president at the time, Prof. Dr. Alois Riklin, adopted the idea and supported the concept of a “Research Center for Business Ethics”, which was founded in 1983. The center was supported by the university as well as the canton's churches, and Prof. Dr. Georges Enderle (who later became the John T. Ryan Jr. Professor of International Business Ethics at the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA) and served as a member of the Institute’s board for many years) was appointed as its director.3
A few years later, in 1987, Peter Ulrich was appointed professor of business ethics at the University of St.Gallen. Remarkably, this was the first time a university chair in business ethics had been established in the German-speaking part of the world. While Peter Ulrich initially was appointed as the director of the Research Center for Business Ethics, he eventually helped found the “Institute for Business Ethics” (IWE) in 1989.4
Prof. Dr. Peter Ulrich headed the institute for 20 years until he retired in 2009. PD Dr. Ulrich Thielemann was a long-time member of the institute and served as its vice-director from 2001-10. During his time at the institute, Peter Ulrich and his team developed the acclaimed “integrative economic ethics” approach that draws on the explication and reflection of the implicit normative foundations of the market logic. This approach re-integrates the market logic into a comprehensive perspective of a rational ethics of economic activity. It integrates an economic and societal order in the service of life (regulatory ethics) with corporate integrity (corporate ethics) and individual responsibility and citizenship (economic citizen’s ethics) as indispensable parts and preconditions of a ‘good’ economy and society (see Peter Ulrich: Integrative Economic Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Prof. Dr. Thomas Beschorner and Prof. Dr. Florian Wettstein succeeded Peter Ulrich as the new directors of the Institute in 2011. The new team builds upon the groundwork laid by Ulrich's “integrative economic ethics”. It promotes a holistic view on corporate responsibility through a multi-layer perspective, including the political role of business, business models and strategies, as well as the role of responsible consumers and civic duties. At the same time, the IWE has been engaged in developing the approach further in ways that bridge normative and practical discourses as well as theoretically founded moral standpoints and their practical implementation.
In 2017, Prof. Dr. Martin Kolmar was welcomed as a third director at the IWE.
1 Riklin, Alois (1987): Wirtschaft und Ethik. Hochschultagsrede 1982. In: Riklin, Alois: Verantwortung des Akademikers. St.Gallen: VGS Verlagsgemeinschaft, 93.
2 Fachkommission „Christliche Sozial- und Wirtschaftsethik“: Bericht über Förderung der Sozial- und Wirtschaftsethik an der Hochschule St.Gallen für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, 12. Mai 1981.
3 Das 1976 in den USA gegründete „Bentley College Center for Business Ethics“ wird als weltweit erste akademische Institution für Wirtschaftsethik gesehen; vgl. De George, Richard T., A History of Business Ethics
4 Thielemann, Ulrich (2002): Das Institut für Wirtschaftsethik (IWE) der Universität St. Gallen – Ein Kurz-Portrait, in: Journal for Economics, Business & Ethics (zfwu), 3/2 (2002), 285-287.