The MBA Oath

5 June 2009 at 8:43 am 8 comments

| Peter Klein |

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.

This comes from a group of second-year Harvard MBAs and was featured in last Friday’s New York Times (HT: MGK). Here’s their blog. I eagerly await the analysis of the O&M commentariat.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Education, Management Theory.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Walter  |  5 June 2009 at 9:37 am

    Alternative Oath: I promise to sacrifice my company’s profits and the wealth of its stock holders, but not my salary, to the latest fad cause.

  • 2. Rhys  |  5 June 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Walter’s alternative oath is especially appropriate, considering how involved the government is with business now. But even though this original oath is being mocked in a lot of blogs, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Consider it like a voluntary MPAA ratings system. By showing the government they are willing to change “from within,” these graduating students might discourage the government from forcing change from above with regulation. Might not work, but it’s a good attempt to apply “the power of small” to this crisis.

  • 3. srp  |  5 June 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Very bad idea on the substance and the process. Medical and legal ethics can be thorny, but they describe a set of specific norms about disclosure, relations with clients, etc. that a) have operational meaning, b) bear on the conditions necessary for the profession to function, c) can in principle be adjudicated after the fact to judge whether they have been violated, and d) apply to individual professionals in their relationships with individual patients or clients. None of these conditions hold for MBAs or for most of the proposed oath.

    My personal favorite is the promise not to harm society. By promulgating this stuff they’ve already violated the oath! Paging Kurt Godel, please come to the courtesy desk…

  • 4. Kevin Carson  |  6 June 2009 at 2:00 am

    On my honor, I promise to strip assets, gut human capital, and hollow out long-term productive capabilities in order to massage the quarterly numbers and game my bonus! So help me, Al Dunlap.

  • 5. Nick DiGiacomo  |  6 June 2009 at 10:59 am

    It was always my impression that a moral compass should come as a standard feature on a base model MBA. Now, it seems, it’s being offered as an optional upgrade.

  • 6. Warren Miller  |  6 June 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Oh, I get it. These guys propose to repeal the laws of human nature and to do so without incentives or sanctions. I think they’ve not learned much in the rarefied air of Soldiers Field. I think they might need a couple of years in Afghanistan to grow up.

    Now, if they talked about a capital-punishment sanction for egregious violations of their lofty bullet points, I might be convinced that they’re really committed to all that highfalutin verbiage. I don’t believe that capital punishment is any kind of incentive for a kid in a ghetto with no family, no education, and no hope. But show me a CEO, a Harvard B-schooler, a CPA, a JD, or a CFO, and I will show you someone who is deterred by capital punishment. If we exercised it about once a decade, a lot of the garbage that drags all of us down would stop on a dime. I’d also like to see them lengthen their decision-making horizon by proposing NOT either to exercise any stock options or to sel restricted stock for a minimum of ten (10) years past the age at which they can draw full social security (even if it becomes means-tested).

    Now, if they added these two ideas to their oath, I’d think they were serious. But now, I just think they’re just in training to run for Congress. Now we see what the non-playing captains of industry think they’re being taught. Heaven help us all.

  • 7. Michael E. Marotta  |  6 June 2009 at 8:28 pm

    (1) Every point is open to argument because none is grounded in an objective morality. The Oath uses the word “ethics” not “morality.” Ethics are variable by culture. Morality is determined by human nature. (Alone on an island, Crusoe would need morality.)

    (2) “… guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.” Leaving aside the question of how to achieve that, I point out that the assumption is that absent such an oath, this person would think that she could advance her ambitions by harming others. That is the mindset of a criminal.

    (3) I can only wonder what Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith would say — or for that matter, even Ebeneezer Scrooge — to the need to specially oath a vow to accept responsibiltiy for one’s actions. Similarly, the promise to uphold contractual obligations would have been assumed in an earlier time, perhaps the 1960s or 1860s.

    I just finished reading THE MAN WHO FOUND THE MONEY the biography of railroad financier James Stewart Kennedy. Many of the so-called “robber barons” of the nineteenth century had a commitment to morality and honor apparently lacking in the managers who are stamped out by the university process today.

    Mike M.
    Michael E. Marotta

  • 8. Aimee  |  23 June 2009 at 5:48 am

    We’ve just posted the unofficial German version of the MBA Oath. You can see it here, at

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