Hard Calls

Kirk O. Hanson signs off as executive director for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Hard Calls
When His Holiness the Dali Lama visited Santa Clara in 2014, Kirk O. Hanson, right, helped host./Charles Barry

Kirk O. Hanson has been called “the conscience of Silicon Valley” for good reason: He’s spent most of his life burrowing into the thorny field of business and professional ethics, studying and teaching about real-life applications and consequences. At the center, he led 25 staff members and 70 affiliated faculty scholars who are sought-after experts in all areas of ethics—from medicine to the internet and beyond.

With the refrain, “Be compassionate and empathetic. Be full of purpose,” Hanson marked his last graduation as executive director for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. For nearly half the center’s existence, he shepherded it to national prominence. Hanson used the 2018 commencement to encourage ethical decision-making—even when it isn’t easy.

“Making good choices in life involves and will involve deliberate sacrifices. To turn down a questionable assignment, or to admit your mistakes rather than cover them up. To pursue your passion rather than solely the path to wealth. It will sometimes involve putting some of your goals on hold, for the sake of your spouse’s career. Or while you care for an ill parent … Be different, be courageous.”

 

Read Hanson’s answers to our questions in this Q&A.

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