Thursday, October 14, 2010

Business School Deans: We're not all cut-throat!

Listening, on NPR's On Point to three or four deans of U.S. Business Schools speak about their schools' attempts to pry the U.S. economy out of the depths of another recession was like listening to the designers of the Titanic as it went down in the icy-cold North Atlantic. We built the best, most unsinkable ship in history...was the cry at that time. Today the refrain is, "We are not all about cut-throat competition and profit."
And yet caller after caller, graduates themselves of business schools, protested the precise opposite. "I learned that profit mattered most, until I took a course in ethical leadership in another school and found "my people" and "my thinking," was the way one caller put it.
Over 45% of the graduates of U.S. business schools last year went into the financial services sector, while a mere 5% decided to try their own businesses. And yet, these deans insisted that the host, Tom Ashbrook, would be surprised and pleased with the kind of social conscience among the current crop of students attending these schools. There are, they claimed, students who want to start not-for-profits, and co-ops, even in these schools.
And yet, as Ashbrook encouraged them, "Get on with it, we need it today!" we all knew that this was another of the mirages that infect all corporate spokespersons. One of the deans spoke eloquently about the two sides of the business school enterprise: Marketing and Organizational Development, and acknowledged that the schools themselves, "may have veered too far in the direction of marketing in the past," and need to right the ship by focussing more on the development of organizations.
And yet, when business schools concentrate their faculty and their students on the issues of running profit-seeking, or more accurately, profit-driven as the sole reason for their existence, organizations, how can the "human side of the enterprise" as an old theorist, MacGregor, put it so many years ago, have any oxygen?
And it is the human side of the enterprise that has been sacrificed on the altar of profit!
And that is both obvious and tragic.
And there are so few voices trying to bring the ship back into balance...
Even the current initiatives around social enterprise, and business on a not-for-profit basis, as advocated by the Nobel Prize winner, Mohammed Yunus, for his work in establishing micro-credit banks in Bangladesh and in some 70 countries around the world, are still on the fringe of conventional thinking about the place of profit in the economy.
Why, for example, is there no Grameen Bank in Canada? Certainly the major banking institutions in this country are not interested in the proposition that human beings deserve a "first money" chance to make money in their own venture.As Yunus put it in his interview with Evan Solomon on CBC's Power and Politics, we need money to make money, and everyone deserves that first money to get started. Incidentally, for the sceptics, well over 97% of the loans that the Grameen Bank makes are paid in full, a much higher average than main street banks can boast.
Now that Yunus has established his banks in the U.S., there is a possibility that those business school deans will invite him and his colleagues to speak to their students, and the process of money finding real people with real imagination and real commitment to bring their vision to life, might find legs, and become a sustainable platform in the American "survival of the fittest" jungle.
And then the business schools can start to learn from the Grameen Banks that capitalism has more than a monolithic model, as currently advocated by those business school deans.
For more on Grameen Banks go to:

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