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HBS: Best Vocational School in the World?

I spent some time over break reflecting upon my first semester here at HBS. I have met some of the brightest, most talented students and professors I have ever been in contact with. I have been challenged to work hard0eö?`‰_TTŽoW+OŽ^UŽ.-train successful business people who will serve society, not exploit it like the robber barons of old.
But don’t let me rant by myself. If I have stirred you in any way, let me know. I want to hear from professors or students who agree or disagree. Let’s at least have the conversation.

You can email Rich at rleimsider@mba2003.hbs.edud up with the Hippocratic oath and a code of conduct that requires a dedication to human welfare. The legal profession, too, has a detailed code of conduct and common law stretching back centuries.

What is the business person’s code of conduct? We are given a tantalizing glimpse of what it might be in HBS’ Community Standards. “The mission of Harvard Business School is to develop outstanding business leaders who contribute to the well-being of society.” Does anyone truly believe that our classes and our cases represent the best way to train business leaders to contribute to society? What is the “well-being of society?” Different people may have different definitions, and that is as it should be. Yet if we don’t even discuss the issue, how can we possibly act upon it?

Vital issues such as ethics and social responsibility must not be relegated to the ghetto of an eight-class unit late in the year. In every course I have taken so far, important ethical issues have been raised, and left on the table:

 In Marketing, what does it do to society when Mountain Dew chooses to segment its customers by advertising with cartoonish racial stereotypes? Or when every home product commercial features a woman, and every beer commercial a man?
 In LEAD, as was noted in these pages by John Kelleher, how can we discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s effectiveness as a leader, without discussing his principles?
 In Accounting, how do real managers deal with the pressures to “massage the numbers” for analysts, irrespective of economic reality?
I have raised these issues in class, and I have been told that we simply don’t have the time to address them. We must have an explicit space in the required curriculum where we learn to apply our new skills toward the ostensible goal of this school-the well-being of society.

Harvard Business School can be a number of things:
 We can be a vocational school, like any other continuing education program, where people come to improve accounting, marketing, or negotiation skills.
 We can serve as a finishing school, a two-year party where young professionals bide their time and signal their interests to subsequent employers.
 Or we can reach back to fulfill the original mission of this school-to train successful business people who will serve society, not exploit it like the robber barons of old.
But don’t let me rant by myself. If I have stirred you in any way, let me know. I want to hear from professors or students who agree or disagree. Let’s at least have the conversation.
You can email Rich at rleimsider@mba2003.hbs.edu

January 22, 2002
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