Laura Pincus Hartman, chairwoman, School of Choice Education Organization
Professor's journey for a school is rich in life lessons
DePaul University professor Laura Pincus Hartman has been visiting Haiti for nearly a decade; the 2010 earthquake led to the beginning of her efforts to build L'Ecole de Choix. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune / February 20, 2013)
Her focus on business ethics, she said, elicits amused reactions.
"People say to me, 'Isn't that an oxymoron? There must be nothing to do,' " she said. "I've heard every single line. I would love to change the name of my focus to leadership decision-making."
Now a Vincent de Paul professor of Business Ethics at the university, Hartman teaches two courses during the school year, an undergraduate course in business ethics and a graduate class in ethics in leadership. She draws on her penchant for networking to connect students with Chicago-area executives, who talk to her classes about ethics and leadership.
"The students have this extraordinary access to the corporate boardroom," Hartman said, citing leaders like Deborah DeHaas at Deloitte LLP. "It's been unbelievable access, and I love it. For me, I get to meet with them, so it's been wonderful. Basically, you just have to ask."
She also is co-author of a slew of business textbooks. A frequent book collaborator with Hartman, Dawn Bennett-Alexander, said, "Laura writes everything like it is a law review article -- very legalistic, a zillion footnotes." Bennett-Alexander added that she could still remember their chance meeting two decades ago at a national conference for the Academy of Legal Studies in Business.
"She was as tiny as she is now," Bennett-Alexander said, "with that big, booming authoritative voice."
In her books, Hartman and her co-authors have argued that efforts by global corporations to alleviate poverty can be more effective than such traditional means as foreign aid from developed nations or nonprofit organizations.
"I think Laura's insight is that there are so many problems in the world that we cannot solve unless we get businesses involved," said Leila Janah the founder and CEO of Samasource, which brings Internet-based work to people living in poverty, adding that Hartman has become a mentor and friend.
Hartman said, "I don't like pure charity or pure philanthropy, when people sort of empty their pockets. Because in the end, you just have pockets that are empty. What I like to find are for-profits that are developing businesses, like in Haiti."
Hartman initially went to Haiti to do research, exploring the role that for-profits play in the global economy, but her parents, Ted Pincus and Donna P. Meyers, had piqued her interest decades earlier by spending their honeymoon there in 1961.
Ted Pincus, who died last year, founded the Financial Relations Board, a Chicago-based investor relations firm, but he also wrote articles, including a newspaper column for the Chicago Sun-Times.
"He thought he should write an article on Haiti," Hartman said, "so he sprung it on my mom: 'Honey, look at what we get to do!' "
Born at Michael Reese Hospital on the South Side, Hartman spent part her childhood in Highland Park and then Lincoln Park. She went on to Tufts University near Boston, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology before starting law school.
She laughs when she talks of her father, recalling his antic of arriving at important events -- including her wedding -- dressed in a gorilla suit. But she grows pensive when she reflects on him, her coffee-colored eyes moistening.
"My father taught me," she said, pausing for several seconds, "my capacity. He believed that I was capable of doing great things. ... So I've spent my life trying to become the embellishment that he created for me."
As for her own children, Hartman decided in her early 30s that she wanted to be a mom, regardless of whether she had a significant other. She spent a weekend at her parents' beach house with two books -- one on international adoption and the other on domestic.
On a Saturday, she called a bunch of attorneys, and three days later, a lawyer called to say that a woman who was eight months pregnant was trying to place with the Chicago Urban League, but that at the time, the organization only placed within race.
"He said, 'She's black,' and I said, 'That's OK, I don't care,' " Hartman said. "'Does she know that I'm single and Jewish?'... I thought it was odd that people care who they want to be a mother to. I just wanted to be a mom, and I didn't care to whom."