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Retired executive from Alcoa to speak on leading with integrity

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March 17, 2017

Bill OrourkeBill O’Rourke, a retired executive from Alcoa, Inc., who served a number of leadership roles in his 36-year career with the company, will deliver the Ralph Gross Lecture on Global Business Ethics at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, in the Centenary Room (room 264), Quadrangle Building, Saint John’s University.

O’Rourke will speak on “Leading with Integrity in Global Business.” His speech, which is free and open to the public, will focus on the challenges facing ethical leadership in a global setting.

From 2005-08, O’Rourke was president of Alcoa-Russia, a $1 billion revenue business. Before that, he spent 30 years at Alcoa in the legal; finance; procurement; and environment, health and safety departments. He also served in senior positions as chief information officer, corporate auditor and corporate patent counsel.

When O’Rourke was named head of Alcoa-Russia, the company had acquired two of the world’s largest aluminum fabricating plants.

“O’Rourke was a skilled ‘fixer,’ known within the company for his integrity, discretion and judgment in identifying and handling difficult managerial problems,” wrote strategy+business magazine in a 2012 article. “Those attributes were essential in this assignment: to make these plants — which were rife with cost overruns, authoritarian mismanagement, worker hazards and environmental exposures — safe, profitable and embedded with Alcoa values.

“Today, Alcoa Russia is a productive and profitable enterprise in a country where some other multinationals have given in to the culture of corruption, lost control of their assets or left. Both of the Alcoa plants deliver solid performance against health, safety and environmental metrics,” the magazine concluded.

O’Rourke retired from Alcoa in 2011, and began his second career as a business ethics and safety management writer. He is a fellow of the Wheatley Institute for Business Ethics in the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University; the board chair of Sustainable Pittsburgh; and served as the director of the Beard Institute of Business Ethics at Duquesne University from 2011-14.

“Central to O’Rourke’s beliefs about executive leadership is the importance of unyielding personal and professional adherence to one’s moral and ethical principles,” strategy+business continued. “From his perspective, any executive who gives in to immoral, unethical or illegal behavior, no matter what the pressure to do so, is propagating undisciplined habits, unsavory relationships, and permissive leadership that will ultimately undermine a company’s long-term value.”

The Ralph Gross Chair in Business and the Liberal Arts was established through a generous gift of the Gross estate. Ralph Gross graduated from SJU in 1965 with a bachelor's degree in economics. He went on to pursue advanced studies in business and accounting at the University of Minnesota and later became a certified public accountant.

Joe DesJardins, professor of philosophy, is the Ralph Gross Chair in Business and the Liberal Arts at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.