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Alumnus Robert Föehl gives back to promote ethical leadership education

Friday, April 29 2016 12:00am

Alumnus Robert Föehl brings his Business Bobcat pride to the ends of the earth – in one case quite literally, as he displayed a Bobcat flag in Antarctica.

Alumni: Robert Föehl

Current roles: Vice president and general counsel, ACA International; adjunct faculty of graduate programs at Ohio University’s College of Business; and advisory board member, program in organizational ethics & compliance at University of St. Thomas School of Law

Home base: Twin Cities, Minnesota

Robert Föehl, vice president and general counsel of ACA International, among other roles, lends credit to Ohio University’s College of Business for his success. He worked in roles with progressively more responsibility at the Federal Reserve, U.S. Bank, Deluxe Corporation, and Target, before finding his current role at ACA International.  

“The academic rigor of the College, academic advisers, and Corporate Leadership Fellow Program [now Select Leaders] became my foundation for everything,” said Föehl. “They set me up for executive engagements, internships, and overall success.”

But as Föehl delved further into the working world, he encountered something that wasn’t so easily taught nearly 25 years ago: What to do when ethical dilemmas arise.

“The longer I worked in business, it became more apparent to me that there are all kinds of opportunities to step on an ethical landmine,” he said. “And they aren’t always obvious.”

Ethics soon became Föehl’s professional—and personal—interest. Shortly thereafter, he became Target’s first director of corporate compliance and ethics.

“When you are in charge of ensuring that a large, multi-national corporation is complying with the hundreds of applicable laws and regulations, as well as maintaining its reputation for being one of the world’s most ethical companies, you quickly become highly-sensitized to myriad of ethical issues that can arise in modern business,” Föehl observed. 

He had always planned to give back to the College in a meaningful way. After becoming more involved on campus by speaking to classes and individual students, he decided to combine his vested interest in ethics with giving back by supporting ethical programming in the College.

In 2014, Föehl and his wife Jennifer established the Robert L. Föehl Organizational Ethics Fund. The fund is dedicated to bringing high-quality, ethics-based programing to College of Business students at Ohio University. The fund supports the efforts of the College to develop leaders who conduct business with integrity.

This year, the fund co-sponsored an Ethical Leadership Case Competition with the Society of Human Resource Management. Based on the Apple/FBI scuffle following the San Bernardino shootings on Wed., Dec. 2, 2015, the case challenged students to make recommendations based on the interests and needs of various stakeholders.  

“I continue to be impressed with the caliber and quality of students at OHIO, and was extremely pleased with how they addressed the case,” said Föehl. “I think everyone learned more about ethics—and they even enjoyed it.”

Read more about the Ethical Leadership Case Competition.

- Potpourri –

Pressing questions for Föehl

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

“The variety of issues that I deal with on a day-to-day basis. I lead legal, compliance, and human resources teams, as well as the governmental affairs team in [Washington] D.C., and am part of the executive leadership team. There’s never a dull moment!”

What advice do you have for students?

“Work hard, continue to learn, and be open to opportunities – especially ones you might not expect. The best opportunities I’ve had are ones that I didn’t plan for.”

Why do you continue to support and stay involved with OHIO’s College of Business?

“I love Ohio University. It gave so much to me. There were executives who donated their time, and now it’s my turn. Alumni engagement is part of what keeps the college vibrant. I also don’t think that I’ve been more excited about where the college is, and that’s a credit to today’s leadership. The opportunities for students today are tremendous, which is incredibly exciting. It makes me want to help.”

When you weren’t in class, where would we find you on campus?

“I never limited myself to one area; I’d go different places depending on my mood. But I have a special place in my heart for East Green; I really enjoyed the vibe there.”