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Issue Date:
April 22, 2014

The Purposeful MBA

By Christians In Business, Jewish Business Students Association, and Latter-Day Saints Student Association  |  january, 2013, Issue 2

This article is a collaboration of CB, JBSA, and LDSSA student groups. It is one of a series of articles written with the intention to increase the dialogue on campus regarding the role of business in society and our duties as future leaders.

With recruiting season underway, the pressure to land the "big" job or internship is palpable in the Winter Garden. But where does the pressure come from? For many of us, it stems from an internal drive to achieve and the right job serves as a tangible symbol of our success. It is likely also the byproduct of external pressure; business school rankings are tied to salaries and we are encouraged to join the plethora of student groups dedicated to networking and professional success. At times it can seem that the job hunt is the primary, or even sole, purpose of business school.

Last week we asked, "Why does having a positive impact on society become less important over the course of an MBA?" According to our survey, 54% of you attributed the decline to its lack of focus in MBA programs (see full results at www.boothcb.org/polls). Building on this decline, an Aspen Institute study showed that before obtaining an MBA, students believed the purpose of business was to develop goods and services for the benefit of society. Upon graduation, the students dropped the societal benefit from their view and stated the sole purpose of business was to maximize shareholder value. Does this shift in attitude happen internally as well? Do we start our MBA programs looking to develop skills and increase career opportunities only to end up believing that the purpose of our MBA is to maximize our returns? The change in focus would certainly add to the pressure.

Compare the survey responses above to a quote from legendary former Johnson & Johnson CEO James Burke about his b-school experience. In the Melvin Copeland's And Mark an Era, Burke recalls, "In everything we did we were reminded of moral values – the importance of the moral values in our decision making. We spent a lot of time talking about it." While there is certainly nothing inherently immoral about maximizing shareholder value, many view the 2008 credit crisis as yet another example of the unintended consequences that blind faith in one model fails to anticipate. More to the point, does Burke's experience sound anything like today's business schools?

In From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, Harvard business historian Rakesh Khurana traces the roots of business school back to a desire by corporate America to legitimize management as a respectable occupation capable of acting socially and publicly responsibly. From these roots, Professor Khurana argues that outside influences (i.e. educational foundations and the federal government) shifted the focus towards more measurable goals such as academic output and rankings. It can be argued that this change not only dramatically improved the quality of instruction, but also elevated the entire field of management education. But have we shifted too far from this initial public-minded purpose?

What do you think? Add your voice to the conversation! Please visit www.boothcb.org/polls to answer a "famous" quiz related to the business school mindset and compare your results with peers from other schools.

Please take the quiz today!

Last Updated 1/30/13
Last Updated 1/30/13