I respect the ambition of a group of recently graduated Harvard Business School MBA’s to promulgate a code of ethics. A story in the New York Times publicized this initiative. “When a new crop of future business leaders graduates from the Harvard Business School next week, many of them will be taking a new oath that says, in effect, greed is not good.”
The oath is a voluntary pledge for graduating MBAs to “create value responsibly and ethically.” The long-term goal is to transform the field of management into a true profession, one in which MBAs are respected for their integrity, professionalism, and leadership.
The short version of the MBA Oath:
“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 create alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. I recognize my decisions can have far-reaching consequences that affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and in the future. As I reconcile the interests of different constituencies, I will face choices that are not easy for me and others.”
There are some references to a professional code of conduct for MBA’s, similar t0 the oaths taken by lawyers and doctors. But the legal profession and medical profession operate under more than just an oath. You must past a test to prove a minimum level of competency to get licensed. There is also the coercive power of government behind these professions, prohibiting the unlicensed practice of medicine or law. It does not seem that these junior MBAs are proposing to go that far in advancing management as a profession. An oath without out some consequences for breaking it seems to lack authority.
Like Chris MacDonald, I question the title of the New York Times article and do not think we are in an era of immorality. I do not see the recent implosion in the financial markets as something caused by a lack of morals. There were many factors that caused the implosion. Personally, I think morality was merely a minor factor.
- The MBA Oath
- A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality by Leslie Wayne in The New York Times
- Making Management a Profession – by Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nhoria in the Harvard Business Review
- Harvard Students Take Ethics Pledge by Chris MacDonald of the Business Ethics Blog
- First, Do Not Steal From Shareholders from NPR’s Planet Money
- New MBAs Promise to Be Better: Pardon My Skepticism from Seeking Alpha