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The Lifeboat Game

Here is a "game" I use to start my Business Ethics course at Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis.

An ocean liner has hit an iceberg. A small lifeboat has launched and is now on its own. It is uncertain when help will come, or how far away land is.

The lifeboat has 10 people in it, but can only hold six.

You have 15 minutes to decide which four passengers to throw overboard. If you fail, the boat swamps, and all 10 passengers drown.

Whom do you throw overboard? Be prepared to explain and defend your selections.

Lifeboat Occupants


Annie Able

Annie is a 51-year-old divorcee with two children, one autistic. She heads R&D for a pharma start-up with a potential breakthrough drug. She attends church and volunteers at a soup kitchen. She has badly sprained her wrist


Billy Baker

Billy is an MBA student engaged to a medical resident. He wants to work in venture philanthropy in Africa with his doctor-spouse after graduation. Billy has diabetes; in his pocket, he has a five-day supply of insulin


Charles Charlie

Charles is a 70-year old physician Board certified in Emergency Medicine. A bachelor, he competes in sailing races and has expertise in open-boat navigation. This cruise was on his bucket list because, though robust now, he suffers from lymphoma and has no more than 3-4 months to live


Delia Delta

Delia is a 12-year-old girl. She is in shock, as her parents and younger brother have just drowned. Having swum to the lifeboat, she is beginning to shiver from the cold; Dr. Charles says she is at risk for hypothermia


Ercole Echo

Ercole, is a 35-year-old opera singer with millions of adoring fans. Twice divorced and previously convicted of mail fraud and drunk driving, he reputedly left a friend to die on the sidewalk outside a club where they were snorting cocaine. Ercole is very fit, and his singing greatly cheers the others


Francine Foxtrot

Francine is a 23-year-old ensign. She was supposed to be monitoring the ship’s radar for icebergs but was instead watching a Game of Thrones re-run on her iPad. She supports a widowed mother ashore whose prescription drugs are not covered by insurance and also finances her disabled younger sister’s therapy. She is a fair navigator and rows well


Godfrey Golf

Godfrey is a six-year-old boy. He is the seventh of eight children. He was traveling with a grandparent (now drowned) and is inconsolable. He has tried to bite several passengers. Dr. Charlie warns that a bite in open-boat conditions can quickly go septic


Holly Hotel

Holly, 65, owns a successful mail-order party-goods business now run by her four children. A grandmother of 10, over the last five years, she has traveled the world with her spouse of 43 years. They contribute to a number of charities. She bails well but tires quickly. She is the only passenger who can somewhat quiet Godfrey


Ignatius Igloo

Ignatius is a married father of three young children. He secured his current spot on the lifeboat by asking his 20-year-old lover to fetch from the cabin the keys to the BMW 5-Series he told the lover was a surprise gift. Neither the car nor the keys exist. Ignatius captained his college rowing team. He has begged G-d to forgive his past sins and now claims that he is a changed man


Julia Juliette

Julia is a 41-year old private-equity investor famous for stripping companies of valuable assets, firing the employees, and selling the bones. She is being sued by her partners for fraud and by her children for plundering the trust fund their father left them. Julia has sworn, if she is not thrown overboard, to donate $1 billion to charities selected by the other survivors and to give $10 million to the family of each person who goes overboard. Julia is a triathlete

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