A New Generation with a New Business Paradigm

June 12th, 2009

Business Week has a great article about a new oath “to do no harm” that is being taken by MBAs around the word. Started by 2nd year MBA students at Harvard, the oath defines business management as a profession whose ultimate “purpose is to serve the greater good” and expects its takers to “act with utmost integrity.”  It now appears to be catching on around the world.  From the article:

So far, people from 115 countries representing 49 languages have visited the MBA Oath Web site, where visitors can also find links to some of the articles that helped to spread the word.

Anderson says the group plans to translate the code into German, French, and Spanish because of multiple requests. And representatives of schools in Iceland and Norway have expressed interest in adapting it.

It’s pretty clear that the impetus behind the phenomenon is the recent financial crisis, and its portrayal of the state of big business (ergo Bernie Madoff, UBS and AIG).  But while that may have given salience to the pledge, it’s interesting to note that many believe the new MBAs – the younger generation of MBAs – actually mean what they say:

Critics of the movement say that the oath is simply an effort by students to shield themselves from the populist rage at the role MBAs played in the current financial crisis and that the ethics push will fade once the economy stabilizes. But some B-school leaders caution that such a conclusion underestimates the younger generation. There’s a possibility, they say, the oath is only the tip of the iceberg, and that a bigger change—in student sentiment, business school programs, and what it means to be an MBA—is poised to hit the business education world.

Ethics classes are filling up, campuses are starting to consider their carbon footprint, and there has been a proliferation of conferences and clubs devoted to corporate social responsibility. Much of this, Cabrera says, is in answer to growing student demand that was present even before the meltdown. One big reason: an influx into business school by members of the Millennial Generation, whose youthful idealism has already begun affecting a shift in B-school priorties from high finance to higher purpose.

“It’s not just a temporary thing,” Cabrera says. “I really think there’s also a generational shift.…There is a demand, a thirst for this type of value-based ideology.” He sees the events of the last month as setting the stage for a larger overhaul of what he has often said is a failed system of management. Business education, he says, has reached a “tipping point.”

It’s true, at least in the US, that a new generation of thinking has arrived on the national stage.  Recent polling and the movement to elect Barack Obama clearly demonstrate that the generation that is coming of age now – the millenial generation – is far more idealist, accepting, and service oriented than ever before.  We knew this was true in the political arena; it’s fantastic to see that it’s spilling over into the business one as well.

Written by Clark Gascoigne

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