Why We Created the MBA Oath??

You should read this article.  It is very noble and the folks behind putting it into practice are obviously very young (naive?).  The concept is sound but if you look at a question asked in the article, you see the problem.  There are more MBA graduates this year than all medical and legal graduates.  Yes, that is true.  And both those professions have ethical codes to swear by and practice.  But both law and medicine have been around as professions (the practitioners being professionals) forever basically.  The ethical standards made them professions.  MBA is a man-made concept resulting from the complexities of the business world requiring higher standards of competence.  It is not really a profession by tradition.  The MBA graduate is a generalist at best.  The statistics when I was in college were that 250000 people were registered in MBA programs nationwide.  The employment potential was that only 25% of the graduates would actually get an MBA job.  The demand for MBA graduates was much smaller than the supply.  MBA is very much in fashion mostly because corporate staff can get a definite promotion to middle level and the companies pay for them.  But is it a profession as law or medicine?  Some MBA may someday make significant decisions and almost all who get hired are unscrupulous to some extent.  The corporate America does not hire professionals as other industries do.  Most positions are carefully designed to have very specific requirements and whomever is hired usually is qualified beyond the minimum requirements.  What makes or breaks a candidate is their ability to become part of the corporate culture.  MBA as any other employee is taught the ropes and becomes a small or big cog in the wheel depending on the company size and culture.  If MBA does not follow the norms of the culture (makes waves), and is not cast into some dark corner will eventually be shown the door.  Corporate America is not designed for men or women who have ethical standards other than the corporate America's.  History tells us a short tale about this.  After World War Two, General Electric went to the US military asking for help.  GE was too large to manage and the only entity that ever had a problem of that size was US military.  The Army taught corporate America their task and command system and hierarchies among many other things.  A good part of the corporate design is still rooted in the structure of the US Army.  The military is designed so the parts can be replaced that includes people.  If someone is not functioning properly at a position, they get replaced with another one.  This being is not a person but a part.  One's thoughts and believes are his or hers.  The training makes one the part to fit the large machinery.  MBA oath may do great deeds in a very long time but the ethical problem does not arise from the moral state of the graduates.  The corporate culture decides what is ethical or not.  MBA is only a small part that can move up the ranks and one day matter.  He lives and breathes according to the culture or is out.  They can always find another graduate who does not put the MBA Oath before the corporate culture.  Harvard will not tell corporate America what is right and wrong.  Corporate America thinks it is God.


from HarvardBusiness.org by Max Anderson

I am part of a team of 25 graduating Harvard MBAs who created the MBA Oath, pledging to lead professional careers marked with integrity and ethics. My classmates and I are aware of the low opinion many people have of MBAs, especially in the wake of the financial crisis. We don't want to be known as the least respected profession in America (though some polls say MBAs hold that distinction). We want to be known as professionals, who look after the best interests of their clients, customers, employees and shareholders.

Our goal is to begin a widespread movement of MBAs who aim to lead in the interests of the greater good and who have committed to living out the principles articulated in the Oath. This year, U.S. schools will award more than 100,000 MBA degrees, more than twice the number of law degrees and medical degrees combined. And yet the MBA does not make you a professional like these other degrees do. What if it did?

The oath began as a voluntary, opt-in grassroots initiative among our classmates to get 100 HBS students to sign by graduation. We based our oath language largely on a draft of an oath completed by Professors Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana in the Harvard Business Review last October, with a few edits of our own. We thought 100, or more than 10% of the class, would have symbolic power. As of June 8, 2009, more than 50% of Harvard's graduating MBA class has signed the oath. Beyond Harvard, more than 200 students at other business schools, from Stanford to Wharton to Oxford, have also signed the Oath. Just this week, we received a request to translate the oath into Spanish for an MBA program in Colombia.

The oath is a voluntary pledge for graduating MBAs to create value responsibly and ethically. The oath begins with the following premise and conclusion:

"As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can build alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term."

We hope the Oath will accomplish three things: a) make a difference in the lives of the students who take the oath, b) challenge other classmates to work with a higher professional standard, whether they sign the oath or not and c) create a public conversation in the press about professionalizing and improving management. The third goal may be the easiest to measure. We've been featured on NPR, the Economist, The New York Times, The Financial Times, and countless blogs. Whether they agree with us or not, people are talking about business's duties to society, which we think is a healthy development.

As for the first two goals, only time will tell. The power of the oath is not in the moment of taking it, but in the thousands of decisions which are later influenced by the oath. Substantial research suggests that public commitments of this kind do influence behavior, even in the absence of a "stick" to punish non-conformity to the principles. That said, we are exploring ideas to give the oath some "teeth" in the form of peer accountability and welcome any suggestions.

We are hopeful that this is an important, if small, step towards professionalizing management, restoring public trust in MBAs, and building a more ethical, thoughtful business culture.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: