The Milton C. Olson Legacy: The Ethics Seminar

Few know the story behind the ethics seminars offered annually by the accounting department. They are funded through an endowment from the first dean of the School of Business. Milton Olson had a strong interest in ethical conduct in business and wanted students to have the opportunity to hear from experts in the field.

Ethics seminar audienceFirst Dean of the School of Business
In 1948, after teaching business at Ball State Teachers College, Dr. Olson was hired by the University at Albany, then the New York State College for Teachers, as Director of Commercial Education. He also taught business classes. In 1958, Olson hired the school’s very first law professor, Bill Sheehan, whose son, the Hon. Joseph W. Sheehan, currently oversees law studies for the school.

When the growing program transformed into the School of Business in 1962, Olson was named dean. He served in that role for four years, when he was named Vice President for Management and Planning for the university. He led the UAlbany’s enormous transition from downtown to the current uptown campus. Olson spent the last few years before retirement in 1973 teaching business courses, concluding his UAlbany career after 25 years.

According to his daughter, Ann Treadway, Olson demonstrated a strong concern for moral and ethical behavior in all areas of life, but especially in business practices. She said that it was important to him that business people have honest and aboveboard policies and practices. Early in his career, he observed firsthand the “two sets of books” and other questionable, but profitable, tactics used by a company for which he worked.

The former dean died in 1993, but his children, Treadway and her siblings Carl Olson and Jean Lucey ’68, attend the annual ethics seminar created by their father.

Ethics speaker with audienceFraud Found, Fraud Atoned
In 2014, the Olson seminar featured a man who has spent his career fighting fraud. Martin Biegelman is the Executive Vice President at IPSA International where he manages the firm’s Anti-Bribery and Litigation Support Practices. He previously worked in Navigant’s Global Investigations and Compliance Practice, and created Microsoft Corporation’s Financial Integrity Unit. Students heard about his career progression and the common themes of fraud. Biegelman began serving on the Accounting Advisory Board in 2006, in advance of the creation of the forensic accounting program.

At the Olson seminar held in 2013, Aaron Beam, the former chief financial officer at HealthSouth, known for committing the first fraud prosecuted under Sarbanes-Oxley, recounted how he became involved in fraud, and shared how the high pressure of business can lead to unethical behavior, and the mistakes that led to crossing over the line. He also spoke on the negative effects on his family.

Accounting Department Chair Ingrid Fisher noted that students’ reaction to both speakers was strong, with animated discussions afterward. Emphasizing the importance of the seminar, Fisher said, “There is a huge ethical requirement in accounting.” The Milton C. Olson Ethics Seminar is required for accounting students, but open to all.

Caption: Below left: Milton Olson’s daughter, Ann Treadway.
Below right: Martin Biegelman, Executive Vice President at IPSA International and former member of the School of Business Accounting Advisory Board, speaks to accounting students at the annual Milton C. Olson Ethics Seminar.