The Financial Times reported yesterday that Harvard b-school students created, and over 1,000 have signed, an oath specifying acceptable behavior. Among other things, they promise to pay equal attention to “shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which they operate.” On the one hand, as writer Michael Skapinker says, it’s easy to dismiss; the oath hardly represents “breakthrough thinking”—except perhaps in prestigious b-schools and on Wall Street. On the other hand, it is perhaps a small step in a useful direction, and deserves a tiny nod or at least temporarily suspended laughter. Some of this seems to follow not only the financial crisis, but the famous/infamous recent Jack Welch disclaimer. Welch, father-patron saint-cheerleader-haranguer-in-chief of the ubiquitous “shareholder value movement,” recently dissed the primacy of shareholder value as “the dumbest idea in the world.” Presumably dismissing as scurrilous the primary thing you stood for in your widely heralded career does not tarnish your reputation (Welch was just reported as starting an online B-school); to me, it makes the former GE icon a self-anointed laughingstock.
Speaking of laughingstock: My b-school alma mater, Stanford, has just appointed a new dean, Garth Saloner. I am sure he is a fine fellow, doubtless very bright—and of course I wish him well. But Stanford surely wins no out-of-the-box honors; in fact they seem to have defined “trapped in the same frigging box we’ve been in approximately forever.” The new dean is a white-male-economist. Dear God-oh-God-oh-God-oh-God, why why why why why why another economist? Solaner, the latest poster child for non-diversity, makes the third or fourth economist in a row—I’ve lost track. (Before the economist streak started, we had an accountant who starred in the Enron fiasco.) The lack of imagination is nothing short of mind-boggling. I only wish I’d been giving my b-school a lot of money, so that I’d have the unalloyed pleasure of cutting them off.
Speaking of the Stanford b-school redux: I recently mentioned an excellent Harvard Business Review article, “The Buck Starts (and Stops) at Business School,” in which author and former b-school dean Joel Podolny says at one point, “The degree of contrition at business schools seems small compared with the magnitude of the offense.” In the issue of Stanford Business I just received, the outgoing dean, Robert Joss, offers his own assessment of b-school contrition: “A better balance is needed.”
Please pass the barf bag!