I recently caught up with my learned friend Dr. Kulwant Singh – Professor of Strategy and currently Deputy Dean of the NUS Business school. Our discussions are always interesting because we hold diametrically opposite views on many issues and the exchanges are often robust, yet mutually respectful.
One such discussion recently was my suggestion that all Business schools should make Ethics a core subject in their BBA/MBA curriculum. I also quoted Dan Ariel’s research on the subject. His response was that by the time the student comes to do the MBA program his values are more or less set and there’s little that the Business school can do to shape it as the prospective student spends only between 1-1.5 yrs there. Fair point. Yet, business schools cannot use this to abdicate their responsibility, especially when most business schools claim their role is to produce business leaders for tomorrow.
Every time there’s a business collapse, invariably the discussion veers around the pedigree of the culprits. The Enron episode put the prominent Harvard Business School into the spotlight as the CEO was a famous alum. With the current global crisis, it is again time for the same school to be on the spotlight as there are a number of Harvard alumni who played a role both in the collapse and now in the rescue.
A recent article (by a Harvard alum) is unsparingly critical of Harvard Business school and makes some great points. It also makes the point of how distinguished professors got sucked by the business fads created by organizations and sung their praises only to be embarrassed when the organization collapsed. Gary Hamel of London Business School also had his share his blame as he praised Enron only to see the firm collapse in months after his book praising Enron was published.
This raises a few legitimate questions about the role of business schools, the faculty and the students:
Are some of the academics as gullible as the rest of us that they can’t see the structural weaknesses that some of the firms (the firms they study) face? Or are does the glitz and the glamor of the corporate world blind them in some way? Recent events seem to provide evidence. This time Prof Joel Podolny of Harvard Business School writes a great case about how Royal Bank of Scotland has deployed a new financial architecture. Another don from Harvard Business school — Prof Krishna Palepu who was on the Satyam board was criticized for not having asked the right questions when the Satyam – Maytas saga broke out.
Does the business school education accentuate their greed and “the get rich quick syndrome” that could be present in many of them? It is safe to assume that a lot of MBA aspirants are there to become rich, and become rich soon.
Do the business school students lose the element of critical thinking about their own personal values and define themselves by the outcomes they deliver, which by and large is making more money for themselves? Would a different pedagogy of learning by reflection that supplements the case study method help them with assessing their own personal value systems and recalibrating them if necessary?
I clearly don’t have the answers. I have been thinking about these issues for many years now.
The article somewhat loses its credibility by over-generalizing the Harvard instance and seems to overstate the flaws and failures of the MBA education.
Notwithstanding the limitations that business schools face, if one has to consider the collateral damage that businesses and society as a whole pays for the neglect of the Ethics aspect of education, finding a way to inculcate the right values may turn out to be a wise investment.
The current global financial crisis has lessons for all of us including for business school academics and administrators. I do hope they get out of their ivory towers and make attempts to create not just business leaders, but the right kind of leaders.
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