New York Times, 29 May 2009: “Nearly 20 per cent of the graduating class (of Harvard Business School) have signed ‘The MBA Oath’, a voluntary student-led pledge that the goal of a business manager is to “serve the greater good.” It promises that Harvard MBAs will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their “own narrow ambitions” at the expense of others.”
A year later, this is what a business meeting will be like:
CEO: The markets are going up, guys, we have to raise some money fast, before they go down again.
Consultant: We need to get traction asap.
Harvard MBA: Hallelujah! Let us insist more on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God — the rest will be given.”
CEO: Ha, ha, good one. Your own?
Harvard MBA: No, Mother Teresa’s.
Non-MBA: That’s so uplifting.
CEO: We must price our shares really high.
Consultant: We need to operationalise a process that will align company strategies with quick wins.
CEO: Yeah, massage the figures a bit, make them look good, the suckers will fall for it.
Non-MBA: Would Mother Teresa have approved?
Harvard MBA: Sure she would. Our shareholders will love us for doctoring the numbers to keep the stock high, our rivals for setting a high issue price. In fact, we could form a cartel and come to an understanding with our competitors. Didn’t she talk about love and understanding? And we could take care of the Kingdom of God bit by getting a godman on our Board of Directors.
Consultant: That’s win-win for everybody.
CEO: We’ll have to take care of the regulators, grease their palms a bit.
Harvard MBA: For it is in giving that we receive — St Francis of Assisi.
CEO and Consultant: Amen.
Non-MBA: I don’t think St Francis would have approved of bribery.
Harvard MBA: Look, we’re not doing this for ourselves, right? We’re doing this for all the guys who’d lose their jobs if the company went bankrupt. And then they would cut back on spending so the economy would go down and the government’s deficit would increase and we’ll have protectionism and God knows what else, maybe even war. So actually we’re doing all this for world peace.
CEO and Consultant: Bravo, bravo.
Harvard MBA: Besides, we’re all doing this in a detached, disinterested kind of way. As the Bhagavad Gita says, “one who neither disdains nor desires the fruits of actions is always a renunciate.”
CEO: Who’s Gita? Does she have an MBA?
Consultant: Does she know six sigma?
Harvard MBA: It’s not a she. It’s the sacred book of the Hindus.
CEO: Ok, ok. When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you — Friedrich Nietzsche.
Harvard MBA: What does that mean?
CEO: Oh, nothing. I just said it because you were hogging all the good quotes. But what should we do with the money once we get it?
Consultant: We must incentivise people’s deliverables, apart from operationalising best of breed best practices.
Harvard MBA: I think we should lend it to poor out-of-work people against the security of ramshackle overpriced houses, then package these loans attractively and sell them to investment bankers and then sell insurance against the loans defaulting.
Non-MBA: But isn’t that how we got into this mess in the first place?
Harvard MBA: This time, we’ll build a better valuation model. We could also award ourselves bigger bonuses.
Non-MBA: Have you forgotten your MBA Oath?
Harvard MBA: Not at all. It looks great on my CV and entitles me to a bigger bonus. Besides, I have a lifestyle to keep up and I need the money. Wasn’t it Karl Marx who said, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need?”
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint