Pushback on “Management As a Profession”

Writing in HBR, Cambridge University professor Richard Barker pushes back on the idea of “management as a profession” espoused by Rakesh Khurana, Nitin Nohria, and Joel Podolny:

“Hanging the mantle ‘professional’ on business education fosters inappropriate analysis and misguided prescriptions”

Barker’s objections include the notion of a “permanent knowledge asymmetry” between those inside true professions and those outside of them. Non-doctors and non-lawyers, he argues, have no choice but to rely on professionals, which he argues isn’t the case in  business. Does Barker have a point? In the HBR comment thread, author Chuck Blakeman suggests that debating over the the term professional itself may be an overly academic distraction – whether an activity has transformational results or not should be what’s important, not whether it falls into a certain definition.

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NPR Marketplace on the Oath

NPR Marketplace just posted a great interview with the MBA Oath’s own Peter Escher on the Oath. During the interview, NPR’s Kai Ryssdal makes an interesting point:

Picking up again on that idea of the Hippocratic Oath, the oath that doctors take when they graduate. If doctors get something wrong, people get sick, they are grievously injured or they die. When MBAs and business professionals get something wrong, the effect is attenuated through space, right? I mean, if somebody’s gets foreclosed upon, because the bank made a bad mortgage decision, that’s sort of at a remove from the person who actually made that decision to issue that mortgage.

What is the effect of the distance that between MBAs and managers and those affected by their decisions?

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The MBA Identity Crisis

Writing a guest editorial in the Washington Post, the MBA Oath’s Peter Escher tackles the issue of how the perception of the roles of financier and manager has evolved at business schools.

At our lunch of burritos at a local Qdoba (Greg is more accomplished than glamorous), he was questioning the social stratification we encountered at business school. As he saw it, financiers were at the top, and then there was everyone else. Because of the heavy curricular emphasis on finance and accounting, the students who had managed money and knew financial modeling were often deemed the smartest. Socially, they were the ones you wanted to network with. Students who had “merely” managed people, products, brands, and even non-profits were lumped together in the lower echelons.

Has the MBA shifted away dangerously from encouraging the development of the kind of manager that society urgently needs?

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A Technicality Generation?

Former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler puts forth what is bound to be a controversial argument in The New York Times – he asserts that a generation has gotten used to “playing the system” in order to avoid its responsibilities:

“Now that flawed thinking has been carried forward. Many of these men who evaded [military] service but claimed idealism lead our elite institutions. The concept of using legal technicalities to evade responsibility has been carried over to playing with derivatives, or to short-changing shareholders. Once my generation got in the habit of saying one thing and believing another, it couldn’t stop.”

Is Pressler overgeneralizing, or could a similar argument be made for other generations before or since?

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Congratulations to UT Austin Oath signers!

The class of 2010 at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas – Austin has been very active in embracing the Oath. Just today, over 140 members of the class took the MBA Oath. We wish to congratulate everyone at McCombs for their commitment to responsible value creation!

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CUNY Students Embrace the Oath

Students at the Zicklin School of Business at CUNY, the largest AACSB-accredited business school in the U.S., are ramping up their commitment to the Oath and its principles. Two students, Celine Solsken Ruben-Salama and Christine Falantano, have decided to share their Oath experience on Youtube. Congratulations to them and to everyone at Zicklin!

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Stakeholders, shareholders, and business education

The Economist tackles the debate over companies’ duties to stakeholders and shareholders. Were managers and decisionmakers motivated by the wrong incentives?

A firm’s share price on any given day, needless to say, can be a very poor guide to long-term shareholder value. Yet bosses typically had their pay linked to short-term movements in share prices, which encouraged them to take measures to push the share price up quickly, rather than to maximise shareholder value in the long run (by when they would probably have departed). Similarly, private-equity firms took on too much debt during the credit bubble, when it was available on absurdly generous terms, and are now having to make value-destroying cuts at many of the companies in their portfolios as a result.

Meanwhile, USA Today points out that the events of the past year have reinforced the need to incorporate new lessons into business school curricula:

Though these were all pre-financial crisis concerns, the high-profile ethical lapses that helped precipitate the downturn have only intensified the sense that MBA programs need to do more to create ethical graduates.

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The MBA Oath and Goldman Sachs on MSNBC

Peter Escher appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough to discuss the MBA Oath, the book and ethics on Wall Street. A lot of the discussion revolved around Goldman Sachs and whether Goldman would have stayed out of trouble if it’s leaders had abided by the oath. This is well worth watching to think about how the oath is so relevant right now.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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MBA Oath covered in London City AM

Last week, the MBA Oath was covered in a London paper, City AM. The paper interviewed MBA Oath co-founder Peter Escher. The interview ranges from telling the history of the MBA Oath, to implications for Goldman Sachs, to questions of whether it clashes with fiduciary responsibilities. Check it out!

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The MBA Oath is striking a chord

Recently we’ve had a few great stories come out about the MBA Oath. Want to keep you posted on them as they come up. We’re excited that the more people learn, the more they want to talk about it. Lets get the debate going!

Joe Flood does an in-depth story on the MBA Oath for AI5000, a magazine devoted to the institutional asset management industry. At at time when the financial world is under fire, the oath provokes some serious questions about how things ought to be. As Flood writes,

“With success, the oath has been transformed from a well-meaning attempt to stand up to corporate mismanagement into a closely scrutinized ethical proposition with enough hotly debated philosophical conundrums to fill a Philosophy 101 class.”

You can read Flood’s article here.

Then Lynn Parramore, writing for RecessionWire compares our approach to that of our detractors. One of her readers makes the suggestion that the oath should get very specific about whistleblowing:

” if one really wants to be clear about what one must do to oppose corruption and exploitation, this oath should include the following; ‘When I see corruption or exploitation I will blow the whistle and willingly take the risk that I will spend years in court, become financially ruined, and increase the likelihood that I will be forever unemployable.'”

Is that pledge a good add-on? Is it feasible? Is there a way we can form an online conversation to promote and debate ideas like that? Would be great if we could!

Then GMAC – the makers of the GMAT did a small profile on Angel Cabrera, who leads the Thunderbird School of Management (the first school to have a mandatory oath for all MBA graduates) and who is a partner of the MBA Oath through the Oath Project. Worth reading to get a history on the Thunderbird oath.

Also, our news aggregator pointed us to unpredictable ways the MBA Oath is influencing people – as in this Hotel management news website, in a story on “going green”.

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