Today was a big day for getting the word out about the MBA Oath. We got mentions in the New York Times, NPR’s Planet Money, and on Nicholas Kristoff’s daily updates. Since we began, we’ve been hoping to generate a broader public conversation about the role of business in society through our efforts with the oath. I hope we will be humble and wise in responding to the interest that this will bring. Please read the articles
NY Times: “A Promise To Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality” – Leslie Wayne
“When a new crop of future business leaders graduates from the Harvard Business School next week, many of them will be taking a new oath that says, in effect, greed is not good.
What happened to making money?
That, of course, is still at the heart of the Harvard curriculum. But at Harvard and other top business schools, there has been an explosion of interest in ethics courses and in student activities — clubs, lectures, conferences — about personal and corporate responsibility and on how to view business as more than a money-making enterprise, but part of a large social community.”
NPR Planet Money Blog: First Do Not Steal From Shareholders
“It seems that a group of MBA candidates at HBS, surveying the wasteland that that has been made of their soon-to-be profession, have decided that new business managers should hold themselves accountable to something more than insane short-term growth and ridiculous bonuses.”
New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristoff comment on Facebook
“It’s no panacea, but anything that introduces ethical aspirations and larger values into the business world is a good idea, no?”
The replies are especially interesting. Here’s a sampling:
Ashley at 7:25am May 29
I think this is a wonderful idea; however, people going into any high performing job (MBA, Teachers, etc) should strive to be ethical all the time without any verbal acknowledgment.
Robin at 7:25am May 29
aren’t ethics and business sort of like military and intelligence, or oil and water. they just don’t go together
Jack at 7:31am May 29
The mere introduction of the concept is a step forward. As with all oaths and codes, there’s no enforcement power. Still, the oath at least gives graduates something to think about.
Sarah at 7:34am May 29
Most great ideas are borne of idealism, Harvard has it right. Here’s hoping the MBA Oath will “trickle-down” to the rest. I’m an MBA student at UMKC, and have always wondered why there is no industry-standard quality mantra or oath.
Very interesting initiative. A few reactions:
1) It just might work. There is some research pointing to the fact that honor statements and similar can have the effect of making people more honest. – see for instance Dan Ariely’s ‘Predictably Irrational’, which is an interesting read. However, that effect is highly situational – it works when people sign an honor statement right before taking an exam, for instance. The evidence on longer-term effects is unclear. Some research, such as Robert Cialdini’s studies of POW camps (see his great book ‘Influence’), show a prolonged effect. On the other hand, I’m fairly sure that Enron, Parmalat, WorldCom, etc. had honor codes as well.
2) Of course, it it interesting in itself that this initiative has come about. It makes an implicit statement about the (lack of) moral standards that MBAs are generally perceived to have, rightly or not.
3) Are MBAs actually more prone to be dishonest than other people? Or, if MBAs are more often involved in major corporate fraud, is it simply because they have a higher likelihood of ending up in positions where they CAN commit large-scale fraud?