As an undergraduate student at the BYU Marriott School of Business in 1983, Brad Agle was puzzled and intrigued by why people act unethically.
After amassing renowned expertise in the field, Agle returned to the school in 2009 as a professor in the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics, where he now helps students crack tough ethical questions.
Agle credits his interest in human behavior—inhumane behavior, in particular—to one shocking experience. As a 19-year-old missionary, he visited the Nazi concentration camps in Dachau, Germany. “This was a life-shattering experience,” Agle says. “I’ve never felt evil so palpable. I was absolutely struck.” Taking organizational behavior classes at BYU further developed this fascination.
Despite that interest, Agle pressed forward with his BS in information management. However, only two years after graduating, he was unsatisfied with his first career, which was a bank job. Seeking a new trajectory, Agle looked for ways to pursue his interest in human behavior.
One of the options he considered was teaching. Growing up, Agle had admired his neighbor, who was a professor. “He was the dad who always attended everything,” says Agle. “I distinctly remember thinking, ‘I want his job!'"
Before completing his PhD in business management from the University of Washington in 1993, he began teaching at the University of Pittsburgh in 1992. As a budding professor, Agle worked hard to have career victories early on.
This tenacity paid off. In his first few years of teaching, Agle published several highly cited articles; the foremost has been cited more than 18,000 times. His teaching, writing, and community contributions were recognized by several entities, and he served as the director of the university’s Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership for almost a decade.
Despite Agle’s strong ties to Pittsburgh—including blossoming career success, tenure at the school, and his calling as a bishop—a call from BYU Marriott in 2005 led him to consider a move. After joining the faculty for one semester in 2008 as a visiting professor, Agle accepted a full-time position and moved to Utah the next year.
Agle set out to implement a stronger academic focus on ethics at BYU Marriott. Because of the university’s faith-based values, and since ethics have everything to do with following Jesus Christ, BYU already had a strong foundation on which he could build.
As part of Agle’s efforts to strengthen the program, he has spent the last 15 years organizing conferences, giving speeches, establishing advisory councils, creating awards, and much more.
Additionally, Agle enjoys teaching, especially his EMBA business ethics course. Agle’s students inspired him to author a book, The Business Ethics Field Guide. Driven by the need to provide students with practical material, Agle analyzed hundreds of his students’ real-life ethical situations to create 13 categories into which all ethical dilemmas fall; his book discusses those categories. Agle’s work was so successful that the U.S. Department of Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff invited him, along with original coauthor and fellow BYU Marriott professor Aaron Michael Miller, to adapt the field guide for military use in 2020.
Even as an expert in the field, Agle admits that ethical decisions can be difficult to handle correctly, mainly because of their centrality to our eternal destiny. But focusing on living ethically is essential.
“It’s all about becoming like Jesus Christ,” he says.
Writer: Jaden McQuivey