Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service in 2008
Mark Whitaker takes a critical look at how UK & US business schools are responding to the Crash of 2008 by teaching more about ethics, sustainability and corporate responsibility. A 2 part series.
PART ONE – UK
When the global economy crashed spectacularly in 2008 it seemed like all the people in charge had an MBA from a top business school – from President George W Bush, through Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to the heads of Lehman Brothers, Merril Lynch, General Motors and more. Indeed many of the collapsed companies were famous for hiring whole posses of smart MBAs.
Some Business School heads conceded they share the blame, none more readily than the Dean of Cass Business School in the City of London — Richard Gillingwater said that although ethics and values were “embedded” in parts of their courses they needed to deal more explicitly with topics like short versus long-term decision-making, appropriate rewards and corporate responsibility.
So in 2009 he set up a review of all the School’s graduate courses and this programme follows it over 12 months as it becomes the “Ethics, Sustainability and Engagement” project, headed by a new Dean of Ethics and guided by their own “Corporate Philosopher in Residence”. The listener will sit in on lectures, seminars, debates and discussions that show how MBA courses are delivered, and how ethical issues in particular are now being tackled.
The programme also looks at other UK schools that were already tackling some of these issues successfully: For years the international Aspen Institute has rated Nottingham University best in the UK for its approach to ethical, social and environmental topics in its business curricula. And Manchester Business School has an innovative and well established project linking MBA students with local voluntary groups to develop awareness of the place of business in wider society and show that not everyone is driven solely by greed.
PART TWO – USA
Part 2 of this series about their response to such criticism crosses the Atlantic to look at some US schools. Harvard students now take a highly regarded “Leadership and Corporate Accountability” course, but the villains of the Crash all graduated long before that existed. So dismayed were the class of 2009 at the prominence of older Harvard MBAs in the Crash that they devised the “MBA Oath”, intended to be for future business leaders what the Hippocratic Oath is for doctors.
MIT’s Sloan School of Management uses the novel approach of exploring leadership and values through literature, from children’s stories, through classic fiction to plays and movies.
The smaller Tuck School in rural New Hampshire offered the first ever graduate business course back in 1900 and has a long-standing reputation for its ethical focus. Even so their Dean feels the Crash showed that business schools have been turning out “over-confident” MBAs and they are now addressing that.
The programme also visits the first ever collegiate business school, Wharton, established in Philadelphia in 1881, and finally Warrington in the University of Florida, where the issues are regularly debated by academics and students over “ethics lunches”. Contributions from deans, professors, students and classroom sessions, illustrate the range of approaches to — and some of the limitations of – ethical education for future business leaders.
N.B. Some music & extracts have been edited from the original broadcast version due to copyright restrictions