The MBA Oath – What?

In trying to become more involved in the conversation of “the blogosphere”, I’ve been reading the MBA tag across other WordPress blogs. Today, I came across this post talking about a new concept called the “MBA Oath”.  Say WHAT?

Developed by the Harvard MBA Class of 2009, apparently the “MBA Oath” concept is gaining a lot of traction and press coverage in respectable publications like Business Week and The Economist.  Cara puts it a bit more forcefully than I would’ve, but we certainly agree on the value of this “oath”:

Asking MBAs to take the MBA Oath is itself immoral. It assumes that MBAs are naturally bad people who must make a kind of formal pledge to tamp down their natural evil instincts.

— Cara Ellison

I cannot agree more with this sentiment!  At its core, the “MBA Oath” reads as if historically, the only reason that a person pursued an MBA was to become a better grifter.  Someone proficient at stomping on subordinates, polluting the environment, and who would kick their Grandma down a flight of stairs just to make a buck.

As I wrote in “Interview, Part 2”, one of the things that impressed me most with Fuqua was the statement of the Duke University Honor Code front and center as part of the application.  And in my dealings with the Fuqua Admissions Committee and Staff, it is clear that the Honor Code isn’t just some ‘flavor of the month’, that ethics has always been a part of their teachings.

So as an incoming student, I will not be signing the “MBA Oath”, even though Duke Honor Code played a large part in my decision to attend.  At best, it is redundant; at worst, it is dangerous in setting the expectation that anybody pursuing/possessing an MBA is someone to watch for unethical behavior.

As the proverb goes, ‘Character is what you do when no one is looking’. The “MBA Oath” doesn’t improve upon that.

Update: Since this post is generating all my readership…I’ve read a few more blogs about the Oath around the internet, seems there’s no middle ground on this issue.  You either think it’s a great idea, or you can unleash a tirade like this guy:

MBA Oath – Masters of Barely Anything

Yeah, I recognize that skewers me a little bit as part of the MBA group, but that’s damn funny nonetheless!

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10 comments to The MBA Oath – What?

  • syed

    While I agree with the quote about character at the end of your post I have to respectfully disagree with you and Cara. Certain professions have always had oaths, doctors take the Hippocratic Oath when they graduate, does that mean that all doctors enter the field with the intention to kill, maim and injure their patients? No, I don’t think so, the oath is just a way of formalizing sentiments the founders of the profession thought were important. I don’t think the MBA oath will make a difference in the end, someone intent on chicanery will not care about the oath, but I disagree with the reasons for not having one.

  • That’s fair. But I suppose where I differ with the comparisons between Doctors, Professional Engineers, and MBAs is that the former two are specific positions that when performed incorrectly can kill. The latter, not so much.

  • Rocky Balboa

    it is quite surprising (or maybe not) that this oath has only come up post the financial crisis. i consider it nothing more than a gimmick.

  • syed

    I agree Rocky’s assessment, it’s probably a gimmick. But by the same logic we would be led to believe that any corrective action taken by the government in response to the crisis begins is also gimmick. Some good can come of crises, But it is obvious that deeper thought is needed to come to a conclusion on the topic.
    The thing I like about the CC MBA program is that the primary motivation of our fellow students will not always be making money. The program appears to put a lot of stress on helping students understand cultural differences. This makes me want to believe that a lot of the people in the program are motivated by the need to explore and understand different cultures.

  • As I think about the Oath, and what it represents, I think my disagreement lies in that I think the current crisis is a ‘chicken and egg’ problem. Yes, a lot of people in the finance industry have MBA degrees. But I don’t believe that MBAs caused the crisis as much as the frameworks were setup where the only result could’ve been failure.

    I’ll stay away from an anti-government rant, but as I look at the financial crisis, it’s clear that there needs to be more thought about unintended consequences of legislation. To me, it’s pretty clear that the majority of the crisis began at two places: the removal of the Glass-Steagall Act and HUD requiring Fannie and Freddie to buy a certain minimum percentage of “affordable” mortgages (sub-prime).

    Once you set those two ideas in motion, the repeal of Glass-Steagall setting the framework for creating new financial instruments and companies playing on several sides of transactions, and giving banks the ability to increase mortgage sales through Freddie and Fannie sub-prime purchase guarantees, a game of “hot potato” on passing the risk was inevitable.

  • Pranay Manocha

    Honestly, I do not see any reason why anyone would be against a guideline code of ethics for any profession, except of course for the sake and love of argument.

    In India, barbers have a code of ethics, as do people providing other services. Its a culture, its a way of life, it gives people of the same profession cause to connect and an ethic to strive towards.

    Cara’s opinion is skewed. To not sign a ‘good’ document because by virtue of signing it you are admitting to have been ‘bad’ just sounds like what a rebellious child would say to his mother.

    Grow up you people.

  • Grow up? I’d like to think that we could disagree in a civil manner.

  • Pranay Manocha

    So we shall.

  • Lui Sieh

    Hi there,

    Thanks for linking to my article on the topic and taking it for what it was. There’s a lot of fundamental issues that need sorting out but I would agree with your statement on character.

    If education can help with character development, that would be great and then a MBA education would then have been a worthy investment toward one’s personal development.


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