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New center explores the nobility of business

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There is nobility in business, and Reed Watson wants students at Clemson University to know it. He wants everyone to know it.

The business world is not operating separately from the rest of society, he said, and it’s not operating in a manner that excludes positive contributions to the greater good.

Sometimes business people are maligned as the bad guys — and sometimes it’s deserved — acknowledged Watson, a professor of practice in Clemson’s John E. Walker Department of Economics. He wants students studying how to practice business to understand why they’re doing it and why they are not entering a profession of heartless exploiters. On the contrary, business does good, he said, and not only through side projects that support good causes.

Watson is overseeing the university’s new Hayek Center for the Business of Prosperity, charged with enriching the academic experience of business students.

Spinx — the Greenville-based chain of convenience stores — recently distributed a press release about its successful efforts to raise more than $300,000 for the March of Dimes. In 10 years the organization raised more than $1 million for the cause.

That kind of effort is “important and to be celebrated,” Watson said. “But what we’re talking about is the 9 to 5 core business function itself.”

Through service and products, business makes our lives better. Sure, they do it for money, but that doesn’t make the contributions less good, Watson said.

At the bottom of that Spinx press release is a boiler plate statement about the company. Often ignored by journalists, it says in part, that Spinx “is committed to making life easier by fulfilling people’s everyday needs with fresh, on-the-go food, beverages and other convenience products delivered in a safe, clean and friendly environment.”

And that, Watson says, is something the company can take pride in because stores that retail convenience really do make our lives better. He also pointed to the modern smartphone and the myriad of ways it improves our lives. The companies that produce the phones, the technology and — all those apps — make money, but they also do a lot of good for their customers by simply getting down to business. On a simpler level, Watson used a Lyft driver acquaintance as an example. The ride share driver was trying to make a little side money, but reported that it made him feel good to provide the service for people who couldn’t afford more expensive options to get to doctors’ offices or work.

“We could also ask if Bill Gates did more good through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or through Microsoft,” Watson said. “It’s something we could debate. They revolutionized computing and created enormous wealth” not just for themselves but worldwide.

The Hayek Center for Business and Prosperity will look at those ideas and will partner with the university’s Rutland Institute for Ethics to reach farther than the edge of campus.

“Beyond educating our students on how to succeed at business, the center will examine through research and teaching the fundamental purpose of business,” Watson said. “We want Clemson students to understand the ‘why’ of business, as well as the ‘how.’”

Watson said much of the curriculum of business schools nationwide takes an almost vocational approach to teaching.

“Through a combination of scholarly research, graduate fellowships and undergraduate education, the center will explore when and under what conditions business advances human well-being. Understanding the ‘why’ of business will give our graduates a sense of purpose in knowing their professional lives matter,” he said. “We think it’s important for students to see business, at its core, is a vehicle for serving others.

“Business, by its very nature, does that already and we want our students to understand there is nobility in business and profit,” Watson said.

The first undergraduate course offered through The Hayek Center is being introduced this fall. “Why Business?” (ECON-4980) will take a nontraditional look at business, according to a news release that announced the new Hayek Center.

“The College of Business already does a world-class job of educating its students how to be successful in the various business disciplines, such as accounting, economics, finance and marketing,” Watson said in the news release. “What this course will do is complement that vocational training by providing students with a deeper appreciation for the role business has played in improving the human condition.”

The Hayek Center is being funded by private gifts and is named for Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek, the news release said.

Reach Ross Norton at 864-720-1222 or @RossNorton13 on Twitter.

Reach Ross Norton at 864-720-1222.

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