Tracy Gonzalez-Padron’s first exposure to the international business scene was during a high school Girl Scouts trip to India.
Gonzalez-Padron met Mother Theresa at the orphanage in Calcutta, during 1979, the year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The experience gave her “the international bug.”
Gonzalez-Padron is assistant professor of marketing and international business at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and the newly appointed director of the Daniels Ethics Initiative.
Not surprisingly, she enjoyed reading the classics in high school, “Beowulf,” and “The Scarlet Letter,” particularly those that required effort to read and understand.
She wanted to be a librarian and would organize her books repeatedly, and during elementary school, she was frequently chosen to play the teacher during recess.
Although neither of her parents went to college, they encouraged a lifestyle without limits.
“They instilled in us that we could do whatever we wanted,” she said.
And now four of her five siblings have doctoral degrees.
Gonzalez-Padron met her husband, Tony, in Spain, where she studied for a semester while earning her bachelor’s in general education. The couple moved from the Canary Islands to Michigan during 1981.
While in her 20s, she began both a career and family, all while attending school. For 14 years, she worked for Amway Corp., traveling to El Salvador, China, India, Greece, Brazil, Argentina and other countries.
Initially, she was an information specialist for international systems, but later spent 10 years promoting new market development in foreign countries.
During the 1980s and early ‘90s, she was usually the only female passenger in business class while flying. Many vendors and businesses were not prepared to accommodate women.
And business ethics were not what she expected them to be.
Some vendors would not use invoices, preferring to do business “under the table,” without declaring items to custom officials.
“I was exposed to a lot of different people and cultures. That’s why I started looking at business ethics — and how important it is to do the right thing, regardless of local customs,” Gonzalez-Padron said.
After earning an MBA from Grand Valley State University in Michigan during 2000, while working for Herman Miller Inc. as manager of new business development, she began pursuing her Ph. D. in marketing and international business, at Michigan State University, graduating in 2007.
Gonzalez-Padron used her real-world international experience and academic background to write a doctoral thesis about business ethics and corporate social responsibility.
She still maintains contact with her international friends and has been able to use her business expertise and connections in her current position. After the Denver-based Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative awarded a $1.25 million grant to the College of Business at UCCS on Jan. 19, Gonzalez-Padron was named director of the new program.
“We already integrate ethics in the program, but we will be able to make ethics more visible with this grant. Students will be exposed to ethics and situations in which they make business decisions — so they’ll need small businesses to collaborate with.
It is a misnomer that most graduates will work for huge international corporations.
“The majority of students from many universities will work for small businesses or business-to-business, and the light bulb will go on if they can see examples in the business community,” she said. Collaboration with local businesses will help students “envision and relate” to ethics on a deeper level.
“We’re creating change-makers within an organization,” she said.
One of the ways students make a difference in the business community is by working with business owners and managers to create a code of conduct for their customers, employees and the community.
“It will be a group effort — we have great faculty interest in the ethics initiative, and they’ll be implementing it,” Gonzalez-Padron said. “I see it as a way to be able to help the university achieve our objective to graduate responsible managers.”
At UCCS, she’s able to work on what she’s “most passionate about” — corporate social responsibility. “Before the financial crisis, ethics wasn’t a big deal to people, but now it’s become relevant to business schools — they want to make sure they address it,” Gonzalez-Padron said.
Meanwhile, she “appreciates life every day,” hiking local mountains with her Great Pyrenees, Lilly, and skiing with her husband.
And she’s gratified that her children appreciate education.
She and her husband have a daughter who’s a lawyer, and a son who’s earning his pre-business degree and plans to pursue a Ph. D.
“When your children see that you value education, they will think it’s important and value it also,” she said.