If you follow the lead, you will find the list of what these students have promised to do:
- I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.
- I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers, and the society in which we operate.
- I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.
- I will understand and uphold, both in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my own conduct and that of my enterprise.
- I will take responsibility for my actions, and I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
- I will develop both myself and other managers under my supervision so that the profession continues to grow and contribute to the well-being of society.
- I will strive to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide.
- I will be accountable to my peers and they will be accountable to me for living by this oath.
1. Life is about making choices: From the sounds of this oath, these students plan to keep everyone happy for the rest of their lives. I wish them well, but the real questions will come up when the interests of stakeholders clash (stockholders versus co-workers, stockholders versus society). They will have to make hard choices and someone will be unhappy, oath or no oath. This sounds about as good as stakeholder wealth maximization and about as useless.
2. Self interest is not a bad thing: Embedded in this oath is the view that self interest is a bad thing and that we should be serving broader interests, but whose interests are those? Ultimately, the most productive societies have been built around individuals acting in their own self interest. I think the bigger challenge is to set up processes where what we do in our own self interest works to further the collective interest. It suggests to me that we need to expand reading lists in MBA programs to include a little more Adam Smith and Milton Friedman... and a little less of whatever is on the list right now.
3. Watch out for those who are holier than thou: I don't know the people who signed this oath and I am sure that many of them are well intentioned, good people but I do remain suspicious of people who sign oaths like these. My experience is that the people who indulge in breast beating about honor, ethics and honesty are often the least dependable in the face of an ethical challenge.
Finally,the article finds the obligatory ethics professor to quote. Not surprisingly, she proclaims the beginning of a new age of ethics in business. That's baloney. After every crisis, this type of talk abounds, in conjunction with business schools flaunting their newest ethics offerings. Notice how frequently they have to make these classes required courses rather than electives. Tells you something about how much of it is window dressing... Human beings are human beings, and by the time we get them in MBA programs, their ethics are already well formed. It takes incredible conceit to think that we can put grown ups through an ethics class and change their definitions of good and bad...