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An MBA the Jesuit way

As dean of Loyola University Maryland's Sellinger School of Business and Management, I find the recent attention paid to the role of ethics in business education, and the hiring of deans noted for their emphasis on ethical business practices at Harvard, Kellogg, and other leading business schools, very encouraging. Still, I fear that this apparently sudden realization that the standard approach to business--and business education--is crying out for change will not be addressed nearly as comprehensively as it should be.

What business schools need is a great deal more than a few added classes and professional oaths. They need a fundamental transformation in the way they approach their role in, and responsibility to, society.

Of course, business schools should be preparing men and women to plan expansions, evaluate merger opportunities, weather economic crises, and manage budgetary constraints. Those skills are givens, and any business school worth its salt should expect its students to graduate with these fundamental abilities learned, and mastered to become truly adept in these areas.

But the real role of the business school, and specifically of MBA programs, should be something a bit harder to quantify. Our true mission should center on preparing already-talented business people to become exceptional leaders--individuals who blend hard skills with a long-term perspective, an unwavering commitment to ethics and social responsibility, and a sense of responsibility to their communities, both local and global.

Fortunately, models for this approach exist already, and have been operating this way for decades. Loyola's Sellinger School and its fellow Jesuit business schools have long relied on the principles of introspection and reflection to drive our curricula. Our commitment to ethics isn't isolated to specific classes; it permeates our entire program. We teach our students, from the very beginning, that a leader's code of personal and professional principles is his or her most powerful and enduring tool.

In our finance courses, it is not enough to discuss strategies to increase shareholder value. Instead, we ask ourselves how our financial decisions affect all stakeholders, including our employees and the residents of the communities in which we do business. In business strategy courses, we explore how leaders balance the demands of the market with the demands of their internal constituents. We teach our students to approach business decisions in a holistic manner, considering all of the implications and consequences of their choices. In this way, our students develop confidence in their abilities to make sound, ethical, and yes, profitable, decisions.

This approach can serve as a model for other business schools eager to deepen their commitment to ethics. Create environments where students aren't afraid to discuss faith, social justice, and the impact their decisions have on other people. Encourage students to establish bonds with their classmates, building strong networks of professionals who debate issues openly and influence each other to do the right thing.

The concept of an MBA Oath, a professional vow to abide by laws and to act with integrity, is admirable and potentially exciting. But the fact of the matter is that without foundational change in the substance of business education, MBA graduates will end up swearing allegiance to a principle they lack the tools to live out fully.

A re-envisioning of the MBA educational experience on the other hand, and its resulting impact on the character of our business leaders, will establish in the greater society a new and inspiring idea of what it means to hold an MBA.

One day, an MBA will convey so much more than business acumen--It will automatically identify its holder as a leader and a person of profound integrity. Just the kind of leaders our global economy needs as it rebounds from the trials of the past few years.

By Karyl Leggio

 |  June 4, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

What could be more ethical than returning a profit to the shares? Then the share owners can engage in all manner of philanthropic endeavors like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

Of course, today in the news we're seeing the effects of likely unethical conduct on the part of BP. BP shareholders are being punished because the managers did not deliver real profits.

Real economic gains come from maximizing profits and minimizing legal liabilities. BP is on the hook for a big, big clean-up cost. That's not going to be profitable.

Posted by: blasmaic | June 4, 2010 6:35 PM
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