'I will act with integrity and respect in all my dealings.
"I will allow neither ego nor malice to play a role in my decision-making process.
"I will conduct my activities in an environmentally sustainable manner, and will consider the true societal costs when making investment and operating decisions …"
When Harley Finkelstein, a 25-year-old from Montreal, solemnly intoned these words at his convocation ceremony last weekend within the glass-enclosed foyer of the University of Ottawa's Desmarais Building, they had a unique meaning for him - because he wrote them.
Mr. Finkelstein, now a graduate of the MBA program at the university's Telfer School of Management, had heard about student-sponsored oaths of ethical conduct at American business schools, but he was dubious about the motives.
"We got the sense that some of what was being done was a PR campaign," he says, aimed at repairing tarnished brands after the schools' once-venerated alumni turned out to be part of Wall Street's burgeoning wall of shame.
But he was troubled by all the fingers pointing at MBA graduates as the culprits behind the global economic crisis. And that got him thinking: "Management is one of the only professions where you can be the Enron boys or Bernie Madoff, but no one will take away your ability to practise as a professional manager," he says. "There isn't any accountability beyond being in the red or the black for shareholders."
So, after reviewing oaths that engineers, management consultants and other professionals take before receiving their designations, and polling classmates on the most important qualities in a manager, Mr. Finkelstein and a fellow student crafted the Telfer pledge.
Following last weekend's convocation, the graduating students swore to abide by its principles, as did some professors and alumni. "Everything we say in the oath can probably be found in any corporate best-practices guide," Mr. Finkelstein concedes. "All we did is spell it out and put our name to it."
This month, as business students across the country receive their diplomas, a growing number have taken formal pledges to bring socially responsible, ethical conduct into their profession. One of the most prominent examples is the Harvard Business School's new MBA oath - a commitment to "serve the greater good" that has become an international phenomenon, with thousands of students around the world signing the promise.
But the pledge movement is only one of the ways that business management programs are changing. MBA programs around the globe are rushing to prove that they teach students to be good - not just rich - by revamping their curriculums and encouraging debates about ethical corporate behaviour. There is even a student-led movement to create an oversight body that would regulate managers, as other organizations do lawyers and doctors.
Yet, as business-school professors marvel at a level of student activism they have not seen since the 1960s, others wonder whether all this apparent idealism may have self-serving motives.
In the wake of the financial meltdown, business schools are experiencing an identity crisis. The parade of high-profile MBA-holding miscreants - from Richard Fuld (class of 1973, Stern School of Business), who led the Lehman Brothers brokerage deep into subprime mortgages and eventual bankruptcy while collecting nearly half a billion dollars for himself, to John Thain (1979, Harvard), who ladled out billions in bonuses to Merrill Lynch employees before revealing that the company had lost $15-billion (U.S.) - has tainted a degree that has long been viewed as the direct route to the corner office.
So just what is wrong with the MBA education? Henry Mintzberg, who runs McGill University's International Masters Program in Practicing Management (emphatically not an MBA), has for years argued that traditional business programs, with their emphasis on theory and case-study analysis, engender hubris and detachment in young people who gain little or no practical experience.
Writing in The Globe and Mail this past spring, he blamed the financial meltdown on the "monumental failure of management," calling business schools "the perpetrators of this mess." And he's not alone. Others have condemned business schools' emphasis on star leaders, their focus on individualism and the single-minded monetary definition of success.Report Typo/Error