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Honorable Entrepreneurship

Apr 11, 2014

Livingston teaching young entrepreneurs the ways of honorable business By Tom Iacuzio, ‘06 Photos by Scott Smith, ‘04

In a world of infamous corporations such as Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers and AIG, Economics Professor Felix Livingston finally had enough. The former chair of Flagler’s Business Administration Department was sick of seeing “crony capitalists” destroy a system he believed in. So he set out to do something about it. Livingston stepped down from his position as chair to pour his energy into a new Flagler program: a minor called Honorable Entrepreneurship. What does that mean? Flagler College Magazine sat down with Livingston to get a better understanding.

Q: Honorable Entrepreneurship sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. What exactly does it mean?

A: It’s a very old concept. You can go back to Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” which goes back to 1776 and basically criticizes companies the way honorable entrepreneurs would today.

For people who were members of a social group, it was in their best interest to reward behaviors that strengthened the position of the group in society and condemn behavior that weakened it. They would use honor and dishonor as reward and punishment.

So I got to thinking about what type of society entrepreneurs flourish in. When they flourish, the society flourishes because for good things to happen for me, I have to do good things for you. That’s the way the market works.

Q: This program is a six-course minor that is designed primarily for students outside of the business program, though it is now open to business majors as well. What was the reasoning for that?

A: I view the Honorable Entrepreneurship minor as an important link between liberal arts at the college and business education. The idea is that a lot of young people would really like to do something or start a company, but have no earthly idea how to do it. This would basically teach them the basics of how to write a business plan, how to manage a business, but with this philosophical idea that when you do business, do it honorably.

A picture of Felix Livingston.Q: How big of a problem do you think the lack of honor in business really is?

A: I reviewed about a dozen business ethics texts for this program and not one of them touched upon this issue. It’s almost like we’re saying, “Behave yourself, but it’s OK to use government any way you can to advance your interests.” I think there is a proper relationship between business and government, and that relationship is spoiled when you seek advantages to getting over on the consumer.

I think there’s a systemic problem in corporations in terms of decisions that are made. Corporations have a greater incentive to be crony capitalists because the corporate executives can hide behind the veil of corporate governance. They can say, ‘Well, the corporation made the decision. I had no part in it.’

It’s easy to avoid personal responsibility. A private entrepreneur whose name is his word, he has to be accountable for his own decisions. The buck stops with him.

Q: So how does one become an “honorable entrepreneur”?

A: Be successful the old-fashioned way. Find a better way of doing things. There are numerous ways to, in effect, create mutual benefits. The essence of honorable entrepreneurship is mutually beneficial transactions — mutual benefits among entrepreneurs, among entrepreneurs and their workers, among entrepreneurs and consumers. It’s a kind of social network that is highly beneficial if it’s done correctly.

Q: So where do you see this program going in the future?

A: I’d love to see it become a major someday. I plan to try and start a national society for honorable entrepreneurs. In this climate of anything goes, I really hope that this program will help get these students on the ground floor to produce better entrepreneurs for our society. This program is my baby and I really want to develop her and help her grow.

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