CHICAGO (June 28, 2009) — “…my purpose is to serve the greater good…this oath I make freely and upon my honor.”
At first read, I thought these words must have come from an oath for politicians, far too many of whom will eventually succumb to the temptations of public office or the corrupting influences so inherent in the re-election process.
No, surprisingly, these words come from the Harvard-inspired MBA oath that more than 1,100 MBA graduate students around the world have signed as of last Tuesday, according to Financial Times Columnist Michael Skapinker.
That these students felt compelled to write such an oath in the first place clearly shows how far our nation has slipped over the past four decades. But here we are.
The Oath is a remarkable document, and worthy of your review. It exudes a fervent hope that these future business leaders can help us move to a better place, away from the business shenanigans of the past 4 decades.
A startling theme of this Oath is the implicit rejection of the shareholder-first way of thinking that has shaped, controlled, and, over time, allowed for Anglo-American business values to be twisted in a way that bred greed and corruption.
Graduate business students around the globe have pledged to “…safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate. I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and societies it serves” and includes a commitment to pursue “…sustainable prosperity” while promising to “…take responsibility for my actions, and that I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.”
“It would be easy to dismiss it (the Oath movement) with an indulgent smile. Easy but wrong. The MBA oath comes at a time when capitalism’s claims to efficiency and legitimacy have been shaken,” Mr. Skapinker writes.
While the Oath was conceived and written by Harvard MBA students, they were inspired by business professors Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohria who argue “… that the answer to business’s crisis is to turn management into a profession like medicine or law”, according to Mr. Skapinker.
While physicians and lawyers may cross the ethical or legal boundaries by putting moneymaking ahead of patients and clients’ interests, they have codes of conduct by which they must abide if they are to continue to practice, the legal consequences notwithstanding.
There is no question that there is a measure of idealism at the core of this Oath, but keep in mind that MBA students tend to be considerably less idealistic than their graduate school counterparts in the liberal arts. The key to the success of this Oath movement will be how these students react when, upon entering the real world of Wall Street, for example, they confront a boss who, with an eye on his bonus, agrees. Then he smiles and winks while crossing his fingers.
It will take a long time to override the me-first entitlement culture that is so pervasive in business today. That assumes that our acceptance of the greed, patterns of bad behavior and ethical lapses can ever be reversed.
BRAVO HARVARD! I am hoping this Oath will become a driving force in business, not a passing fad. Some idealism may help us reach a better place.
John G. Self is Chairman and Senior Client Advisor of JohnMarch Partners. He is a Co-Founder of the Firm. A former investigative reporter and crime writer with more than 30-years of healthcare leadership experience in public relations, national marketing, business development and as Chief Executive Officer of hospitals and consulting firms, Mr. Self is highly regarded for his keen insight into operations, business culture and for his ability to consistently select the right leaders. You can contact Mr. Self at 214.220.1234 or JGSelf@johnmarch.com. Or you can follow him on Twitter at Self_JohnMarch.