'The MBA Oath'

“Greed is good.” – Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” (a role he will reprise in “Wall Street 2”).

Yesterday the judge threw the book at Bernie Madooff, sentencing him to 150 years in prison.

Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, Leona Helmsley. A corporate criminal hall of shame. And, the big names are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

The extent of corporate crime would shock you – it shocks me. “The Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the Decade (1990s)” (LINK), a list compiled by Russell Mokhiber of corporatepredators.org exposes the depth and breadth of corporate crime.

Corporations on the list were convicted (and fined) for crimes in the following categories: financial crime, antitrust, fraud, environmental, campaign finance, food and drug, fake statements, illegal exports, obstruction of justice, bribery, tax evasion, public corruption, worker deaths, and illegal boycotts.

That’s the bad news: here’s the good news.

MBA candidates at Harvard Business School have composed a sort of Hippocratic Oath for future business managers. Of the 900 graduates of HBS' Class of 2009, more than half have signed the oath.

Let one of these graduates tell you - in her own words - about this positive development:

“Harvard University commencement took place earlier this month with all the requisite pomp and circumstance. Thousands of students paraded into the Yard, which was swathed in crimson. Graduates of the different professional schools carried symbols of their newly minted degrees. Doctors wore stethoscopes. Law students carried gavels. A few landscape architects wore caps brimming with flora. In years past, Harvard Business School graduates would distinguish themselves as the most dissolute of the bunch by waving $20 bills.

“This year, however, instead of dollars, hundreds of graduates – including myself – waved copies of The MBA Oath, a new Hippocratic-style pledge for business professionals, committing themselves to ‘create value, responsibly and ethically.’ Since the oath was published in May by a group of HBS students, more than half of the 900 graduates of the Class of 2009 signed on, along with hundreds of other MBA students and alumni from other business schools. The MBA Oath website has had thousands of visitors from over 115 countries, and business schools outside the US have requested copies of the oath translated into other languages.”

- Elaine Berkowitz, “Business graduates: do no harm,” The Guardian, 17 June 2009, LINK

So significant is this movement to take the path of moral responsibility in a field mired with corruption, I publish the oath here and hope readers will pass it along to business majors everywhere.


As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can create alone. Therefore, I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. I recognize my decisions can have far-reaching consequences that affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and in the future. As I reconcile the interests of different constituencies, I will face choices that are not easy for me and others.

Therefore, I promise:

I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.

I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.

I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.

I will understand and uphold, both in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my own conduct and that of my enterprise.

I will take responsibility for my actions, and I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.

I will develop both myself and other managers under my supervision so that the profession continues to grow and contribute to the well-being of society.

I will strive to create sustainable economic, social and environmental prosperity worldwide.

I will be accountable to my peers, and they will be accountable to me for living by this oath.

This oath I make freely, and upon my honor.


The MBA Oath Web site: LINK.

Related article: “ A Hippocratic oath for managers: Forswearing greed,” Peter Schrank, The Economist, 4 June 2009, LINK


Thanks to my friend Katherine for calling attention to this story.


Infidel753 said...

Just watch for all the right-wing types to start ridiculing this or denouncing it. You know they will. They won't even need to think about it.

Frodo, feeling better now said...

Frodo is not a "right-wing type," he is, however, no friend of legacy admission to America's colleges and universities. Harvard has won his undying enmity for admitting George W. Bush over more qualified candidates.

Frodo looks upon this document as the academic personification of "Just Say No." It is the naive creation of sanctimonious home-schoolers; unskilled, untested, and unaware of life.

The next sound you hear will be Frodo blowing his cookies in the middle of "Hahvahd Yahd."

B.J. said...

Frodo, I’ll just pray that none of these well-meaning students read your comment. Maybe you should watch “Goodbye, Mr. Chrips” and regroup.

B.J. said...

"Goodbye, Mr. Chips"

Falzone for America said...

I think it is a bold and honorable move. I pray their graduates will remain faithful to their pledge and their word. If I should express any doubt it only comes from a life time of past experience that doesn't bode wel for human nature.

The following clause is of utmost importance to me.

"I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.

I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves."

These are great words expressing the honest ambition to leave the world a better place than one found it. They will have the opportunity to show us and our country that their word means something to them.

As a citizen and an individual human amongst many I feel that if you can't count on my word then I have little to no value for anything else.

Frodo, never trust anybody under 30 said...

Grumpy, grumpy Frodo. Let's see now, there are marriage vows--haven't we seen how well those are managed these days? Does anybody else remember "The Cub Scout Oath?" Didn't that end. ". . .and I will obey the Law of the Pack"?

Makes me remember "The Big Chill." One of that number, who became a defense attorney, confessed to her friendfs at the funeral that she became aware of the true nature of the world when she found out that some of those she defended were actually guilty.

A bunch of college kids also came up with "Skull and Bones." Oh, but that was Yale, so it must be different, right?

B.J. said...

Well, Frodo, it’s coming up on the midnight hour, which means you’ve managed to depress me from the beginning of the day until the end. I’ll be glad when you’re off the meds. Get well and maybe your old youth-loving self will return. Skull and Bones, by the way, is about as harmless as the Dead Poet’s Society.

Tiny the eternal optomist... said...

Tiny will hope and pray that the MBA Oath becomes the buzz word for the business world. Everyone has the potention to choose either good or bad. Hopefully we will begin to hear more about the ones who make the good, constructive choices instead of the constant droning of the 4% who make bad, destructive choices.

Frodo, I swear said...

Ah Beej, Frodo feeling better, and Mick, the Wonder Dog, is sitting in the motorcar, wearing sunglasses and a swimsuit, and honking the horn. However, Frodo wants to return to his point of the prior eve. First of all, Frodo does not think that the spirit of Geronimo thinks much of the grave robbers at "Skull and Bones." Additionally, Frodo is unimpressed by those who make public proclamations, for example those teenagers who sign pre-marital sexual abstinence pledges. Every lawyer in America signs a pledge before joining the Bar about ethical conduct, and Frodo asks, if anyone knows of a more corrupt group not named Soprano?
The act of an oath makes Frodo wonder why someone felt it necessary to participate? There is an aroma of insincerity and insecurity to tell the world at large, "look at me, I'm different."

B.J. said...

Frodo, we’ve got to stop meeting like this! You and the missus enjoy Lake Lovey and share your adventures there when you return to the Shire. The rest will do you good. Tell Sam to take Miss Julia along! Unless, of course, she’s redecorating the cabin! LOL. See ya on the flipside! Oh, want to place a bet on how long Mark Sanford lasts in the SC state capitol? BJ aka Merry.