The MBA Oath started with a group of Class of 2009 Graduates of Harvard Business School, but the idea is rooted in a long tradition. From the Hippocratic Oath to Thunderbird’s Oath of Honor and the Columbia Business School’s Honor Code, professionals, students, and academics have evoked kindred aspirations. In a 2008 article in the Harvard Business Review on making management a profession, Harvard Business School professors Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohria suggested the creation of a “Hippocratic Oath for Managers.” Building on these foundational efforts, a group of graduating MBAs at Harvard came together at the height of the 2009 financial crisis to develop the MBA Oath.
Over 9,000 students representing more than 100 schools
around the world have taken the MBA Oath, creating a community of MBAs with a high standard for ethical and professional behavior. The MBA Oath aspires to:
- Make a difference in the lives of MBAs who take the the MBA Oath;
- Challenge other MBAs to work with a higher professional standard, whether or not they sign the MBA Oath; and
- Create a public conversation about professionalizing and improving management.
A note from one of the co-founders of the MBA Oath:
In 1908, when Harvard began the world’s first two-year masters program in management education, it was called a “great, but delicate experiment.” The experiment proposed to turn the occupation of management into a profession, like law or medicine. Leaders of the business school movement wanted to ensure that large corporations, which were just coming into existence, would be run in the interests of society. It was an effort to say “We are all in this together.” Our school’s own motto reflects this vision: “To educate leaders who make a difference in the world.”
Has the experiment succeeded? Is society better off for having MBAs?
This year, U.S. schools will award more than 150,000 MBA degrees, more than twice the number of law degrees and medical degrees combined. And yet the MBA does not make you a professional like these other degrees do. During this last semester of our second year, a few of us started wondering, What if it did?
What if each of us on our graduation committed to holding ourselves to a higher standard? What if we had a code of conduct, the management equivalent of the Hippocratic oath? What if we actually lived up to our billing and became leaders who don’t just make a difference in the world, but make a difference for the world?
My hope is that at our 25th reunion our class will not be known for how much money we made or how much money we gave back to the school, but for how the world was a better place as a result of our leadership. This oath doesn’t guarantee that. Not by a long shot. But it is a first step. And it is one that we are making as we begin our careers as professionals.
This is the beginning. I hope you’ll join us.
– Max Anderson | Cambridge, MA | May 2009