Business ethics has a long history at the University of St.Gallen. Prior to the foundation 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 today holds a chair in business ethics at the University of Notre Dame and is a member of the IBE's board) 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 director of the Research Center for Business Ethics, he eventually helped found the Institute for Business Ethics 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 widely respected approach of „integrative economic ethics“ (see Peter Ulrich: Integrative Economic Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2008). After Peter Ulrich's retirement, Prof. Dr. Martin Hilb, president of the institute's board, took it upon himself to head the institute until new directors had been appointed. As of February 2011, the Institute for Business Ethics is co-headed by Prof. Dr. Thomas Beschorner (formerly of the Université de Montreál, Canada) and Prof. Dr. Florian Wettstein (University of St. Thomas, USA).
The „new“ institute is going to build upon the groundwork laid by Ulrich's „integrative economic ethics“, for it offers a holistic view on corporate responsibility, 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, it is determined to further develop the approach in a way that bridges normative and practical discourse as well as theory and practical implementation.
--- A longer and more detailed history of the institute can be downloaded here (only available in German).
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 The „Bentley College Center for Business Ethics“, founded in 1976, is considered the oldest center on business ethics; cf. De George, Richard T., A History of Business Ethics (available online: http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/business/conference/presentations/business-ethics-history.html).
4 Cf. 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.