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About a year ago, a company asked me to write a daily blog for them. I told them that I’d never read a blog and had absolutely no idea how to write one but sure, if you want to pay me for it, I’ll give it a shot. It was either my good or bad fortune to start at the beginning of the credit... More
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  • The MBA Oath 2 comments
    May 31, 2009 1:01 AM

    Rejoice, MBA graduates at Harvard and other elite schools are now signing an oath to go forth into the world and work for the betterment of mankind. At least, that's the gist of an article in the New York Times.

    According to the Times, the students are not only lining up to promise to do good but classes in ethics are blossoming throughout academia. According to the article this represents a generational change. The new crop of MBAs evidently came to the campuses with a different set of ethics than their predecessors.

    The article indicates that business school students want to move towards a code of ethics not disimilar to other professionals:

    Those graduating today, they say, are far more concerned about how corporations affect the community, the lives of its workers and the environment. And business schools are responding with more courses, new centers specializing in business ethics and, in the case of Harvard, student-lead efforts to bring about a professional code of conduct for M.B.A.’s, not unlike oaths that are taken by lawyers and doctors.

    Yes that will solve everything. MBAs agreeing to act like lawyers. That oath has clearly done a lot to clean up that profession. 

    Forgive the skepticism, but I rather suspect that the first time one of these kids quotes his oath to some MD at an investment banking firm he's more than likely to receive a suggestion as to what he can do with his idealism. Business, particularly the type of business most of these students have been trained for, is a pretty cut throat enterprise. Always has been, always will be. It doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice basic ethical standards or lie, cheat and steal to get ahead but it does mean that you can't be too prissy about the way you get your deal done. 

    This isn't the first time this meme has rolled around and it won't be the last. Hell, it employs a few teachers that probably couldn't cut it in the mainstream so it's not all bad. Let's not just kid ourselves about how much difference it is going to make. Having seen a few generations come and go and listened to all of the prognostications about how different and sociallay aware they were, how different and how much better their approach to business will be, I can assure you that when it comes to human behavior there really isn't that much new under the sun. 

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Comments (2)
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  • MaxAnderson
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
     
    Dear Tom, Thanks for your post. My name is Max and I'm one of the student organizers of the MBA Oath. I understand your skepticism and it has been echoed by many. We too would be skeptical if someone suggested that this oath alone would change the practice of management. At this point the oath is purely aspirational. It doesn't have the teeth that it should, but you have to start somewhere. So we're starting here.

     

    You mention that lawyers have an oath but that it hasn't cleaned up that profession. Perhaps you're right. I don't know enough to argue. But the counter-factual to think about is what would the practice of law be like if there were no ethical standard? Would we not imagine lawyers to be held in even lower regard?

     

    Our goal is to be a bit more like medicine. When you go into a doctor's office and see an M.D. degree on the wall, it inspires trust and confidence for the patient. If a customer or client walks into a business office and sees an MBA on the wall - they don't have the same positive reaction. Sure would be nice if they did. This won't get us there alone because there is no silver bullet, but we hope its a move in the right direction.

     

    If you or your readers have suggestions for making this more realistic or ideas on what would be a better way to achieve our goal of professionalizing the MBA and calling leaders to a higher standard, we'd love to hear them.
    - Max Anderson
    1 Jun 2009, 06:06 PM Reply Like
  • oshane
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
     
    Tom, I applaud Max's aspirations as you do in a follow-up post, but I am highly skeptical of the oath in its current form; I find it to be largely vapid. I read Seeking Alpha from time to time, but ran across your take after I had finished my own: www.oshane.com/wp/2009.../
    4 Jun 2009, 04:57 AM Reply Like
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