Monday, March 16, 2009
The Ethics of A New Generation of Business Leaders
I had the pleasure of spending the day with four young business students yesterday. I was struck by two articles I'd read in the Sunday New York Times, "Is it Time to Retrain B-Schools?" by Kelley Holland and "Can you Pass a C.E.O. Test?" by Greg Brenneman. Both addressed the competing effects of business acumen (as we used to define "success") and business ethics. I was intrigued to learn that at UCLA's Anderson School of Business, there is no requirement to take a Business Ethics class as a prerequisite to earning an M.B.A. Why not? There is no Code of Business Ethics, no "Professional Code of Conduct" and no licensure or certification to conduct business. Indeed, as Brenneman notes, many a C.E.O. is clueless on how to push the levers to raise earnings beyond filibustering over buzzwords that are nonsensical. The take-away lesson from Brenneman, who Chairs CCMP Capital, a turnaround expert, was this: "In any interaction, you either gain share or lose share. So treat every interaction as kind of a precious moment in time." Isn't that a good guideline for an ethical code of conduct?
My son reported that every business-related major at the undergraduate level at the University of Wisconsin is required to take an Ethics course. Why? My hope is that just as this generation of students learns to appreciate and value diversity, cultural sensitivity, environmental and global concerns, if they are also trained in ethical conduct, they will not succumb to the greed and sharp practices of our generation, and our business climate will be better for it.