By succeeding, a company serves its customers, provides employees with paychecks, and generates investor returns. A successful business also harms rival companies, their suppliers, and their distributors. Oftentimes a successful business makes rival products obsolete and develops technologies that make various types of capital – human, intellectual, and physical – less valuable. If an oath were to take the passion from business leaders, it would be the worst thing business schools could adopt. The underlying problem is that the concept of “serving society” is inherently vague.
The question about a Hippocratic Oath arises because of revelations about unlawful practices at companies spanning much of the globe. Here’s some background about how the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business contributes to the ethical foundations of capitalism. Our incoming MBA students are required to take our Leadership Exploration and Development course, which emphasizes ethics. Students do not, in contrast, have to take finance! The GSB also offers an entire course in business ethics taught by Robert Fogel, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economics.
Maybe of greater significance, the basic value system at the GSB is to always question. I firmly believe that many ethical problems arise in organizations because people don’t question practice, intent, purpose, and results. I also am committed to making sure that the two years that students spend at the University of Chicago GSB are characterized by integrity. We don’t view our students as customers. Rather, we view them as students, our future alumni, and future business leaders. We discuss our responsibilities openly and set expectations.
During my 21 years as a faculty member and dean I have seen many changes take place at MBA programs. As the business world has changed so have business schools, but the Chicago GSB hasn’t lost sight of their true mission. Our students learn in an intense, exhilarating climate of discussion and debate. This environment invigorates our students and faculty. The payoff is success in the marketplace.