As I attend the week-long 2009 graduation ceremonies at Harvard Business School, it strikes me that things have changed. Not only is the world staring down the barrel of a recession that rivals the great depression just before the second world war but the institution that had so boldly launched the Masters in Business Administration programme, a 100 years ago, now has to deal with those hushed whispers that signal what might be the eventual change of course for this glorious innovation.
While for the most part it insists that its focus on general management skills has allowed the MBA programme to stay relevant, the buzz on campus isn't whether the MBA is “too practical” or “too theoretical” but the dawn of a new meme, (when arguing for re-vamped education programs)- “socially responsive.”
The HBS students thus keeping in trend with what they do best…. set trends. They signed a public pledge, promoting, advocating and promising good management. Over 30 per cent (about 350 students) have signed what is known as the MBA Oath- mostly motivated by a sense of personal values and yes of course, the current economic climate. It is a student-led effort to establish a professional code of conduct for MBAs and is not unlike oaths that are taken by lawyers and doctors. Except of course, there are certain consequences for the latter- they are barred from doing what they know to do best.
But if your management skills aren't quite kosher? You might get fired, but not barred from the corporate food chain. Impressions will be formed, hardened, held against and then re-formed.
And sometimes despite unacceptable management norms, if you're making money - you might even get a promotion. Surprise, Surprise.
However circumspect you are when evaluating the seriousness of this “pledge,” the enthusiasm of youth have propelled the students to take the pledge to heart.
“Look, its not just fake, empty rhetoric. It's about living upto certain ideals, to have integrity in your business and how it affects the community and the environment. Fact is, if I screw up - my signature is right there for everyone to see. It's a public commitment to better management,” a HBS student tried to explain in between elaborate dinner courses, why this initiative was important. She should have run when she had a chance, but she did not and unfortunately had to deal with the tenacity of a reporter.
And for HBS, what better paradigm for good management than James Dimon, chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co? Hailed by the Financial Times in March as one of the 50 People Who Will Frame the Way Forward out of the financial crisis, Dimon graduated from HBS in 1982 and will be the School's 2009 Class Day keynote speaker tomorrow. It will be interesting to hear what Dimon says when he tries to “inspire” the students when their biggest employer, the Wall Street, is low on resources.
The gossip near the water cooler is that HBS is churning out a plethora of entrepreneurs in 2009. Not to mention a significant chunk of the graduates are looking at social enterprises and public policy positions, much more than previous years. Again at a dinner, two HBS students told me they had no clue what they were going to do next, “I'm just going to go to Washington and scope it out, maybe a government job you know?” Another said he was joining a company that made organic products, "Finance? No way. Not now."
A HBS student allergic to finance? There is something fishy here.
But enough of serious talk, it was time for a few pints. The party continued at a Bar in the vicinity (where families were not invited.)
Now that is a time-tested-approved-by-generations- custom. Somethings never change.