Ethos speaker Bobb brings insight, integrity to speech

This week Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business will be hosting its fourth annual Ethos Week, which will see a number of professionals converge on the COB for discussions on the importance of ethics in business.

The event will culminate in a luncheon on Friday, featuring a keynote address by Robert Bobb, who was appointed by Governor Granholm as the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools in January 2009.

Though Bobb’s current position at DPS has generated some controversy, as reported in last Thursday’s issue of The Eastern Echo, his decades of experience in business, government and politics have given him great insight into what it takes to not only succeed, but to do so in an ethical and socially responsible manner.

“Students will move onto the next phases of their careers once they graduate; and whether in the business world or the non-profit world or the government world, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and respect are all part of who we are and what we become in our professional careers,” Bobb said in a phone interview with The Echo on Saturday.

“One of the things that impresses me a lot is the fact that [EMU’s College of Business] is developing for its students a professional culture based on ethics and values,” he said.

“I think that’s very important for business school students moving on to the next phase of their careers—and not just business school students, but students in general,” Bobb said. “I think what Eastern Michigan University has done is to recognize the value that [ethics] plays in a very large way, both in business and politics and in our everyday lives.”

According to Bobb, an individual’s ethics are shaped by how they were raised, but also through the experiences they gain in school and in their careers. His own personal view on ethics was strongly shaped by the decades he spent as a city manager.

For over three decades Bobb served as city manager in the cities of Oakland, Calif., Santa Ana, Calif., Richmond, Va. and Kalamazoo, Mich. From 2003 to 2006 he served as a City Administrator in Washington, D.C., before becoming the President of the District of Columbia Public Schools’ Board of Education.

“When I became an assistant city manager, through the International City/County Management Association I worked under a very strict code of ethics… wherein any member of the organization could bring ethics charges against any other member of the organization, no matter where,” he said.

That code of ethics has stayed with him as he has moved on to his subsequent positions, including his current role at DPS, where he has been given the responsibility of overseeing the restructuring of a school district that has an estimated budget deficit of around $200 million and has lost almost 65,000 students between 2002 and 2008.

Needless to say, the task hasn’t been easy, but from his very first day onward, Bobb has stressed the importance of ethics.

“When I arrived [at DPS] we did not have a code of ethics for the school district,” he explained. “So we put one in place in April of last year.”

Recently, Bobb has been in the news as members of the school board and community have strongly opposed a number of his decisions, including a proposal to dissolve the school board and place the district under mayoral control. He is also the target of multiple lawsuits filed by the board, one of which claims he has overstepped his authority.

But regardless of the controversies, Bobb remains steadfast in his principles and resolute in his mission to turn the district around, starting with what he calls “a change in the culture” of the organization.

“It goes back to having integrity, honesty, being very truthful with what you do and also having the courage to demand that others follow the example that you have set as part of your organization,” he said.

The Ethos Week luncheon will be held from 12:30 to 2:30p.m. this Friday in the Student Center Grand Ballroom. The keynote address by Robert Bobb will be from 1:40 to 2:25p.m. Tickets to the event are currently on sale for $35 to the general public and $5 for students.

For more information on Ethos Week visit

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