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mba diary

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Adrian Papara is an MBA graduate from the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, with an interest in management consulting. Previously, he held various roles in the financial and marketing industries and earned a bachelor of arts, with a major in economics, from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. In his spare time, he volunteers with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, raises funds for various charities and has a keen interest in recreational flying and automotive restoration. This is his seventh blog in a series.

Shortly after completing Telfer's MBA program last August, a handful of students, including me, took part in the Canadian MBA oath ceremony. Paul Crampton, chief justice of the Federal Court of Canada and a University of Ottawa MBA alumnus, presided over the ceremony.

The oath is a voluntary commitment to conduct future business affairs ethically and abide by a professional code of conduct that acknowledges responsibilities to stakeholders (fiduciary duty), society, employees, community and the environment, all of them equally important.

The MBA oath concept has been around for a few years, with a similar pledge made by Harvard University MBAs, but Telfer was the first Canadian school to offer the ceremony.

In the wake of numerous scandals in the world of business and financial markets, Telfer supporter James Roache (MBA 1984) worked with graduates and professors to help establish the Canadian MBA oath in 2009. A promoter of corporate ethics, Mr. Roache is also the donor behind an annual award that recognizes the Telfer MBA student who most strikingly demonstrates excellence in applied ethics in business and finance.

But skepticism surrounds MBA oaths, in general. Schulich School of Business professor Matthias Kipping, for one, explained why an MBA oath is bound to fail in a recent article for The Globe and Mail.

While I agree with Prof. Kipping that many managers already behave properly without swearing an oath, I think his in-class experiment to show that an oath would fail is based on a flawed argument. He asked students whether they would rather take an oath not to cheat on exams or deposit $1,000 (or $100), which they would forfeit if found cheating. Nearly all chose the oath.

But his experiment does not take into account the implication of breaking the oath in the business world – a ruined reputation, resulting in lost income, disgrace and possibly criminal charges. Moreover, the question is asked to students, who may not have the practical work experience to fully appreciate the negative consequence of doing something unethical.

The penalty of breaking an oath is not something that one can measure in complete monetary terms, or be weighed against other limited prescribed options either.

By contrast, when I chose to take the MBA oath it was not to deter me from unethical behaviour; rather it was an affirmation of my values, aspirations, beliefs and a guideline of how I choose to conduct myself now and in the future.

For individuals who have a different view on the MBA oath than myself, criminal penalties and fines only go so far as to prevent them from breaking their pledges; moreover, their conscience should be the judge. The greater deterrent would be their tarnished reputation in the business community, not to mention the record of their misdeeds forever leaving a mark on the Internet.

Then again, would you hire ex-Enron chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling if you had a job opening? Not with that reputation.

Adrian can be reached through his LinkedIn profile.