Carolyn Woo — Asian Tigers & Business Ethics

CEO, Catholic Relief Services, Hong Kong

We are social beings; we are meant to interact with each other; we are actually meant to depend on each other and make our way together.

Video Player

Carolyn Woo – Ethics Driven Educator and Business Leader

Dr. Woo assumed the position of CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services in January 2012. Catholic Relief Services was founded in 1943 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States to serve World War II survivors in Europe. Since then, it has expanded in size to reach more than 100 million people in nearly 100 countries on five continents.

Before CRS, she served as the dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame from 1997. During Dean Woo's tenure, the Mendoza College achieved number 1 ranking (BusinessWeek/Bloomberg) in 2010 and 2011. Prior to the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Woo served as Associate Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Purdue University.

Dr. Woo earned her Bachelor's in Economics with highest distinction and honors, Master of Science in Industrial Administration with award as Krannert Scholar and Ph.D. all from Purdue University.

She is married to David E. Bartkus and they have two sons, Ryan and Justin.

  • Carolyn Woo on Improving Globalization

    There’s a debate: does globalization work or does it not work? And I always say the evidence is that we’ve seen it. It works some of the time. And so, the key is to increase that some of the time to most of the time.

  • Carolyn Woo on Moral Leadership in Business

    We know that globalization can bring about a lot of good, but it doesn’t always. And it all depends on people. It depends on the moral sensitivities, the moral responsibility, the moral energies of the people who lead business. Business is really people. And among those people, leaders matter most. They not only set the direction, they set the boundaries, they built the culture of what is cool and what is not cool to do. Moral energies is a must. That’s really sort of the engine which drives where business ends up. Globalization, market, they’re just tools. And those tools can bring about good things and not-so-good things.

  • Carolyn Woo on Hong Kong's Success

    My parents, like a lot of other Chinese, left China during the Communist Revolution and came to Hong Kong to start a new life ... In those years, there were 1.5-million refuges who came from China to Hong Kong. Hong Kong only has 426 square miles ... and Hong Kong is a place where it has no natural minerals. We don’t even have a water supply. We have no oil, we have no gold, we have not anything that comes from the earth. We just have a harbor, a deep harbor. So, it’s built around trade. So, that’s globalization. Hong Kong is really the port that goes to the rest of the world. If we didn’t have trade, we would have nothing. I have seen many, many people, the whole of Hong Kong, coming into its own, earning a living, increasing the quality of their life, enabling the second generation, enabling their children to become very successful. All of this is made possible because we have trade. All of the classmates I went to school with, we were all children of refugees, trying to rebuild our lives, in this colony, which is basically rocks surrounded by sea water. So, I saw, upfront, a country that came into its own place because it could trade with others.

  • Carolyn Woo on Business Enlightenment

    To the issue of global markets that produce cheap things where certain costs or certain benefits the workers have not been worked in - that’s a real issue ... We need to have business which has a sense of enlightenment about that. We need to have civil society, which can also stand up for itself and say, 'We do not want to work for that type of tradeoff.'

  • Carolyn Woo on Owning the Bad of Globalization

    We need to recognize, first of all, and own some of the bad history of globalization, commercialization, and markets. We need to own that. Because if we own that, we will learn lessons from it and we will be able to derive and develop good leaders who understand the bad things that can be done but then also focus on the good things that can be done.

  • Carolyn Woo on Imbalanced Trading Power

    We’ve also seen that, particularly when markets are not very free and markets are controlled, we can also have very imbalanced trading power. And in those situations, you could actually have fists, not handshake, but fists. When certain parties in the exchange have so much power that dwarf the counter party, that the counter party could only accept terms, whether it’s good for them or not. That becomes a fist.

  • Carolyn Woo on Government and Free Markets

    People think about free market, that it is free from any type of government influences and government regulations, and that’s a complete misnomer. A "free market" means several things. First of all, it’s built on exchange. It builds on the capital market, which has 3 things: individuals have to have rights to their property, and that has to be respected. Number 2, any type of exchanges and so on have to be voluntary. And the third is that if we enter into a contract, that that contract can be enforced. Those are just the pillars. Now, Hong Kong is the freest of markets in the sense that if you think about the blend of government regulation and what businesses can do, it was a blend that allows business to happen.

  • Carolyn Woo on Government Contribution in Hong Kong

    Government developed the infrastructure for roads, public housing, good public school systems. It also did a lot to get rid of corruption.

  • Carolyn Woo on Government's Hindering vs. Helping Business

    It's important that government be a partner, be an enabler for business, because if you think about all of the other infrastructure elements, the legal infrastructure, the transportation infrastructure, education infrastructure, so people are literate, so the lack of corruption, for example, those are all the things that the government creates a certain environment. And that environment can facilitate or it can hinder commerce.

  • Carolyn Woo on Social Economic Exchange

    The whole issue of what are the potential benefits and contribution of market and economic activities to human development, we have seen it in John Paul II writings, and we’ve also now seen it in Pope Benedict’s writing. The premise is that, as human beings, we are social beings. We are meant to interact with each other. We’re actually meant to depend on each other. We exist in society as social beings, so those interactions are very important. When we talk about charity, we’re not just talking about interpersonal exchange, we’re also talking about social exchange. And economic exchange is one form of social exchange. And that is a moral activity. So we want to make sure that different people, all people, have access to that exchange, as equal people, so that no one has to come to that exchange, in some ways, exploited, without their voice and their rights given proper place.

  • Carolyn Woo on the Alternatives to Markets

    Think about what would happen if there are no markets. So, number one, you’re always confined to the very small scope of your geographical sort of location. You can grow your own food, you could build your own shelter. You could also spin something. But that’s about it. So, if you have no access to market, you basically are locked from all of these other opportunities. You won’t have access to modern medicine, you will have access to the medicine that you could grow. That’s number one, is not having access to all of these potential resources. The second one is that when there are no markets, what will happen is that usually there’s a central authority, who then makes the allocations. That’s really completely dependent on a monarch, on a tribal leader, on the person who has the most influence, how this person will choose to allocate goods. And I don’t want that system. I want to have more say in sort of like my access to resources. The third thing is that when you don’t have free markets, you could over-produce and under-produce. You don’t know what other people want. Other people don’t know what you want. You just make what you can make. So, there’s not that ability to really adjust and use resources in a way that really addresses needs. And I think there's a fourth thing that we often forget, and that is God invites us be creative. God invites us to be inventive. God invites us to reach out to each other, so market is a very critical point of exchange. I think we underestimate that we are meant to do these things. We’re meant to be inventive and supportive of each other through these activities. And if somehow the way we conducted these activities did not lead to good for others, only led to good for ourselves, then we need to correct those activities. But exchange is very, very important, and I think almost sort of a holy aspect of our lives.

  • Carolyn Woo on Business as a Necessary Good

    Despite all of the criticisms about business, we need to remember that business is a necessary good. It’s not a necessary evil. Why is it a necessary good? Because human beings are social beings. Social beings make their way together, interacting, depending and exchanging with each other.