(To read other stories on the aftermath of the Lehman
collapse, click [nLEHMAN])
* MBA students say crisis will breed responsibility
* Harvard MBAs pledged oath to do good, to much skepticism
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK, Sept 14 A year after the collapse of
Lehman Brothers plunged the world into financial meltdown and
jolted the foundations of capitalism, business students don't
just want to learn how to maximize profit for shareholders and
Instead, many talk about sustainability, ethical leadership
and managing companies for the benefit of all "stakeholders."
"It's fair to say that 15 or 20 years ago, the vast
majority wanted to find lucrative careers," said Liz Maw,
executive director of Net Impact, a non-profit organization
that promotes socially sustainable business practices.
"Now the great progress is that people see an MBA as a tool
to learn how to be an effective manager of many organizations,"
she said, pointing to growing interest in the non-profit
sector, government and entrepreneurship among MBA students.
Maw said the trend started around 7 or 8 years ago,
coinciding with growing awareness of corporate social
responsibility and the environment. But it has accelerated
during the financial crisis, which revealed how a short-term
thirst for profits fueled risky business practices.
Asked to name their role models, a group of MBA students at
New York's Columbia University cite freedom hero Mahatma
Gandhi, a CEO known as an environmentalist and
financier-philanthropist Warren Buffett.
"The financial crisis is going to be so deeply associated
with our generation, it will put a sense of responsibility on
all of us as future leaders," said Gary Schueller, 28, who has
just started a two-year MBA at Columbia Business School.
Schueller named Gandhi as his role model, and within the
business world singled out Jeffrey Swartz, chief executive of
environmentally conscious shoemaker Timberland TBL.N.
"He's a pretty solid example of somebody who's done a good
job of creating a socially friendly company," Schueller said.
Tim Eby, a 28-year-old engineer who worked for IBM (IBM.N)
before starting his MBA this month at Columbia, said scandals
such as the Ponzi scheme run by disgraced financier Bernard
Madoff had made him nervous about even naming a role model.
"I'm sure a few years ago somebody would have said Bernie
Madoff is my guy," Eby said.
Second-year MBA Olivia Albrecht, 26, echoed that caution,
but made an exception for financier Warren Buffett, one of the
world's richest men and most generous philanthropists.
Bruce Kogut, director of the Sanford C. Bernstein Center
for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia, said the faculty had
been debating how to learn the lessons of the crisis.
"Some of it is simply 'Why did our models and what we teach
fail, and did they fail?'" Kogut said. "There also is this
issue of 'Are we turning out people who have unrealistic
expectations of their worth and the compensation they should
New elements have been introduced to the curriculum this
year, and in the summer, Thomas Russo, former vice chairman of
Lehman Brothers, taught a course.
This year's students will study the collapse of the auto
OATH TO SERVE GREATER GOOD
Students at Harvard Business School have created an MBA
Oath and are encouraging their peers around the world to pledge
to act ethically and "strive to create sustainable economic,
social, and environmental prosperity worldwide."
Launched in May, the oath was taken by more than half the
graduating class of 2009 at Harvard Business School.
The idea of MBA students signing their version of the
Hippocratic Oath was the subject of a satirical sketch on the
"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," but organizers say it's a
start, even if so far there is no enforcement mechanism.
Larry Estrada, 29, a Harvard MBA student from Seattle, said
the oath stemmed from a desire to professionalize the MBA and
restore some credibility in the face of negative stories about
business school alumni involved in the meltdown.
"I don't think these are necessarily lofty goals, but in
the current state of the industry, they certainly seem like a
higher standard," Estrada said.
A list of signatories on the web site www.mbaoath.org shows
students from as far afield as Britain, India and Australia.
While many MBA students sound idealistic, their teachers
warn that it's easy to slide down the slippery slope.
Dana Radcliffe, a professor at Cornell University's Johnson
School, taught a course on ethics and corporate culture last
semester that he said focused on "what leads good or decent
people to do bad things."
"One of the big areas that needs to be discussed more is
ethical responsibility with regard to risk. What should you do
when you don't know? How diligent should you be in seeking out
how risky a situation is?" he said.
"I'm not optimistic that these lessons will be learned."
Albrecht, one of the Columbia MBA students, said only time
would tell whether the financial crisis proves to be a turning
point for this generation "like a 9/11 pivotal experience."
"Changes from our generation in terms of thinking on
leadership and ethics is not going to shift what jobs you would
necessarily go into, (but) it's going to hopefully shift your
perspective when you are in those jobs," she said.
"The data won't be out there for maybe 15 years until we
are in a decision-making position and our generation really is
in the leadership role in these companies and organizations."
(For a multimedia timeline on the year since the collapse of
Lehman Brothers: www.reuters.com/timesofcrisis)
(Editing by Dan Grebler)