Sunday, March 15, 2009

B-School Reform?

I don't know if I'm a man ahead of my time—probably not—but I got a month's jump on the New York Times. On February 15, 2009, I posted an entry on this blog titled "The Only Schools That Matter." In it, I discussed the fact that many of the bigwigs who delivered the current economic debacle to this country, and the rest of the world, are graduates of our most prestigious business schools. I also wondered, even if/when we get past the present crisis, what is there to prevent the next crop of MBAs from screwing things up all over again, and probably worse than it is now.

In its March 15, 2009 edition, the Times has published an article with the headline: Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools? The accompanying art is a picturesque photo of the Harvard Business School. Click here to read article.

Among the highlights of the piece are:[T]hey (B-school students) graduate with a focus on maximizing shareholder value and only a limited understanding of ethical and social considerations essential to business leadership." Gee, who'd have guessed?

"The new logic of shareholder primacy absolved management of any responsibility for anything other than financial results." So as long as management was boosting share prices and lining its own pockets with umpteen millions, downsizing and outsourcing were okey-dokey.

"A study of cheating among graduate students…found that 56% of all MBA students cheated regularly—more than any other discipline." The authors of the study said the high rate of cheating was due to "perceived peer behavior." Meaning they thought everyone was doing it. So not only was money the only object here, it was okay if you cheated to get it. Explains a lot about our present fix, doesn't it?

"In surveys that the Aspen Institute regularly conducts, MBA candidates say they actually become less confident during their time in business school that they will be able to resolve ethical quandaries in the workplace." Great, so if a person enters B-school with a shred of decency, it probably won't survive till graduation day.

The article goes on to say some schools and outside institutions are trying to improve this awful situation, but their efforts are just beginning, not every school is on board, and they're not sure of the best way to go about reforming things. But they're still cranking out graduates who will become new members of the business elite. Makes me want to fall to my knees and pray.

Another idea, though, is to start rating and profiling these people by name online. Just the way you would a hotel or, nowadays, your family doctor. The docs, I've heard, really hate this. Just imagine how the MBAs would react. But, hey, isn't it about time the outsourcers and the downsizers and the general screwups were put in the spotlight? At least until the really bad ones can be put in the slammer.