About the Oath

Update: We are happy to announce our partnership with Net Impact to work with their school chapter leads to promote the MBA Oath at business schools around the world.

The idea of creating an MBA oath began for us at Harvard during the spring of our second year in 2009. During any two-year MBA, students get a lot of time to think about what it means to be a manager, a leader, and a professional. During our two years, we have been challenged to reflect even more deeply because of two events that coincided with the timing of our studies – Harvard Business School’s 100th anniversary and the global financial crisis.

The first event that inspired reflection was a happy one. In April of 2008, Harvard Business School celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding as the world’s first two-year masters program in management education. At the celebration, our professors called us to consider how management education has changed over time and how it will continue to change in the next 100 years. Students, alumni, and faculty asked poignant questions about how the MBA would continue to be relevant a century from now.

The second event that inspired our reflection was more serious. The global financial crisis of this past year has prompted many in the public and in the press to question whether business schools are successfully executing their missions of educating leaders for society. How did we get into this crisis? Why didn’t business school professors sound the alarms in advance of the meltdown? Why were so many MBAs involved in the decisions leading up to the crisis? Are MBAs so concerned with increasing their personal wealth that they ignore ethics and their responsibilities to society?

In April we began talking about these questions. We decided to respond.

We met first with Leadership and Corporate Accountability Professor David Garvin to ask what he thought of the idea of an “integrity pledge” for graduating students. He immediately suggested that we talk with another HBS professor, Rakesh Khurana. Khurana had written a book on the history of management education and, together with Professor Nitin Nohria, had published an article in the Harvard Business Review on making management a profession. (Read it here.) In it they suggested creating a “Hippocratic Oath for Managers” which would serve as a professional credo for MBA graduates. Like the Hippocratic Oath made by doctors or the oaths that attorneys make to be admitted to the bar, a management oath would outline values and ideals to which managers should commit.

We met with Rakesh and Nitin and told them about our idea. They were enthusiastic. Rakesh and Nitin already had been working with the World Economic Forum and the Aspen Institute to create an MBA Oath that might be used globally. We suggested that a small campaign at Harvard, with a goal of signing up 100 students, might make a meaningful impact in the lives of those students and it might send an important message to the world about how attitudes are changing at one of the most well-known MBA programs.

Since the MBA Oath was launched two years ago we have garnered support and partnership from leaders around the world. We have worked with them to craft the current language of the Oath.

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