You don't want students with one-track minds. You want students who can talk to all levels of people about all types of ideas and be open to learning things that may not be their subject matter. That is one reason the liberal arts environment does well to prepare one for business.

Cynthia Guthrie

As the senior financial officer for Aon Consulting Worldwide, Cindy Guthrie saw a lot of interesting human behavior. "When we would do an acquisition, we were basically buying human capital," she says. "How those people assimilated into the new organization was extremely important." In some cases, the deal structure affected the employees' behavior after a merger. In other situations, people manipulated the system to sacrifice the long-term good of the company for their own short-term gain. All of it intrigued Guthrie. "I find studying people and people's behavior and reactions to be most interesting," she says.

After she had climbed the corporate ladder and realized she was ready for a change, an early life experience pointed the way. "The first job I ever had was teaching horseback riding lessons as a teenager," Guthrie says. "I knew I enjoyed teaching from way back then." She left the corporate world and returned to graduate school.

For her doctoral research, Guthrie looked at how chief audit executives' responses to whistle-blowing reports varied, depending on their culpability in the alleged wrongdoing. After asking chief audit executives in corporations around the country to respond to a hypothetical scenario, she found that, in fact, the executives did seem to be influenced by unconscious bias.

"When the wrongdoing was perpetrated in such a way that they would 'be more at fault' because someone was able to exploit internal controls, they had a different reaction to following up than if the wrongdoing was perpetuated in such a way that they would be held less responsible," she says.

Based on her corporate experience, Guthrie has several goals for her teaching. She hopes to open students up to understanding how important accounting is, whether they choose it as a career or not. In addition, she wants students to appreciate the value of "soft skills," such as diplomacy, discretion and both written and spoken expression of ideas.

For these aims, Guthrie values the breadth of a liberal arts education for business students. "You don't want students with one-track minds. You want students who can talk to all levels of people about all types of ideas and be open to learning things that may not be their subject matter. That is one reason the liberal arts environment does well to prepare one for business."

Posted Sept. 27, 2010

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