LIANE HANSEN, host
It's been a rough time for businesses, families, workers, managers - even students. Imagine graduating with a master's degree in business administration and being lumped in the same category as ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff or the executives who ran Enron. The ethics of business were on the minds of a group of students who just received their master's degrees from Harvard Business School. They've mounted a campaign to have graduating students take what they the MBA oath. It's modeled after the medical profession's Hippocratic oath. Max Anderson and Teal Carlock both received MBAs from Harvard Business School this past week and they join us from member station WGBH in Boston. First of all, congratulations, Max.
Mr. MAX ANDERSON (Graduate, Harvard Business School): Thanks, I'm glad to be here. We've made it through the week.
HANSEN: And Teal, welcome to the program.
Mr. TEAL CARLOCK (Graduate, Harvard Business School): Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
HANSEN: All right, you can alternate between you if you want to do this, but what are some of the promises in the MBA oath? What are the highlights?
Mr. ANDERSON: Okay. The first is I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.
Mr. CARLOCK: I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.
Mr. ANDERSON: I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions, but harm the enterprise and societies it serves.
HANSEN: It's interesting because they all had the same ring to them, which is basically, greed is not good, which is the opposite of…
Mr. ANDERSON: Gordon Gekko?
HANSEN: Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street," what he says.
Mr. CARLOCK: Exactly.
HANSEN: But, I mean, these seem to be givens. Why is it necessary to have an oath that graduate students with MBAs sign?
Mr. ANDERSON: I was talking to a friend the other day who - he told me a story - he was having a conversation with a friend of his who was a mortgage broker. And in the wake of all the subprime stuff he asked this friend, the broker, if the guy had ever written a mortgage that he knew the people would default on. And his friend kind of hemmed and hawed a bit and eventually said yes he had. And my friend asked him, well don't you think that that's unethical. And the guy said, well, yeah, but it was legal. There's been, in the last couple of decades I think, an enormous focus on - in business - on personal short-termism in enrichment. And we're trying to say that although we're not against self-interest, we think that's a vital part of capitalism, we do believe that self-interest alone is - it will tear us apart.
Mr. CARLOCK: I think Max is spot on there. And I think another thing which is we find powerful with this is just actually being able to say it out loud amongst our classmates and just getting it out there vocally and actually, really swearing with our classmates that I will uphold these different promises. I think that's very powerful.
HANSEN: Max, do you think it could backfire though? I mean, say you get into a position and you want to remain true to this oath, and by safeguarding the interests of the colleagues in your firm, your customers and society in whole, you're shareholders could be short changed.
Mr. ANDERSON: We think that actually business managers have a sacred duty to their shareholders. But that, over the long-term, a consideration of the needs and rights of employees and society as a whole will actually build a better business and a greater long-term value for shareholders.
HANSEN: How many graduates did you manage to sign up?
Mr. CARLOCK: I think that - this is Teal - just, as of right now, I think we're just right around the - 50 percent of our class. So that's just over 450 people. And then we initially just started at Harvard Business School and it just be a grassroots student-led movement but word's quickly spread to - we have over 50 different business schools that have - a representative has signed the oath. So it has grown significantly.
HANSEN: So it's catching on?
Mr. CARLOCK: It is. It really is.
HANSEN: So, I mean, we've changed. It's not how much money you make, it's how you make that money.
Mr. CARLOCK: I mean, it really is - this is Teal again. For me, it is. I mean, of course, you know, to make tons and tons of money - I don't think people would take zero money versus tons and tons of money. But I personally don't want to look back on my life and be 75 years old and retired and think wow, I have amassed all this financial wealth but I've just left so many people in my wake along the way. I mean, I think it's - leaving business school is not just about my career. I mean, it's about my life and much greater than just the business experiences that I have.
Mr. ANDERSON: This is Max. And if I could just jump in - I want to make clear though, that we are in favor of profit. And we think that making money is a good thing. We're just skeptical about it's worth as it being the only thing.
HANSEN: Max Anderson and Teal Carlock received their MBAs from Harvard Business School this past week and they are among the more than 400 students who took and MBA oath to serve the greater good. Thanks, and good luck.
Mr. ANDERSON: Thank you very much.
Mr. CARLOCK: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.