A response to a “new” approach to business

Dean's Reflections

A recent article from The Economist  School of the Dark Arts sparked a provocative debate on whether or not business schools “should be prepared to teach MBAs shady business practices in order to work effectively in a ‘difficult’ economy.” First, I would call what they reference in the article as a “difficult” economy a corrupt economy.

Second, I find it interesting that the author believes business schools "preach" ethics. Our role is not to preach; it is to educate. We do that by engaging students in discussions of ethical dilemmas, presenting them with cases that have, at the core, an ethical issue, and providing students with the foundation for forming an ethical framework and lens for making decisions in the future. The author wonders: If you are to be successful in an environment where anything goes, don't you need to learn how to navigate the underbelly of bad business? Shouldn't you learn that in business school? I would argue it is not a business school's obligation to educate the next generation of leaders of bad business practices just because that is seemingly the norm. I would also argue that this approach is not new, neither is it pragmatic—it is giving up. It is perpetuating bad business and its effects on society.

Students need to understand customs and cultural norms in other regions of the world; however, the ethical lens travels with the student to all corners of the world. Doing the right thing in business does not become less of an obligation once one steps off of U.S. soil; the same ethical standards apply throughout the world. Mr. Vanhonacker euphemistically speaks of the need to work in "difficult economies,” but I would argue that choosing to work in a corrupt environment does not lead to improvements for the citizens or for the country: it leads to more corruption.

We live in a global economy. The current financial crisis is not being solely felt in the U.S.; rather, many of the market movements have been driven by activities in Greece and concerns about European solvency. Today, we need to prepare students to be effective in a global economy. And we need to prepare students that not all business is worth pursuing regardless of its potential for short term positive impact on a company's bottom line.

Finally, there are lines we don't cross and in this case, places where we do not need to work. Teaching students to 'get things done' in an environment of graft is not a lesson that needs to happen in a business school.