A Fatal Flaw In The Training Of Our Business Leaders?

Does fortune REALLY favor the brave?

I think I may have come up with a foolproof way of testing that ancient adage…

This was my thinking:

What if I published a blog and a podcast that will almost certainly go down like a lead balloon with the powerful business school lobby and with every business leader who has ever proudly graduated from a business school?

Wouldn’t this be brave, I thought? And what if I received no fortune from this act of bravery? Wouldn’t this show quite conclusively that fortune DOESN’T always favor the brave?

Hmmmm….

Some background…

In my last blog, “Leadership And Those Beautifully Crafted Codes of Ethics—And Cheating”, I suggested that those beautifully crafted corporate Codes of Ethics are worthless without leaders with moral authority who lead by example.

In the podcast I attached to that blog, I rebroadcast a radio chat I had with Steve Burrows CBE, who is Executive Vice President of a major engineering firm with over 32,000 employees around the world.

At the time we recorded that show, I warned Steve that I’d invited Professor Diane Swanson, PhD, a distinguished Professor of Business Ethics at Kansas State University to listen to our show and to join us on the following week’s show to give us her critique of Steve’s views.

(Because I am a very sensitive person, I had no desire to know what she really thought about my views.)

The podcast at the beginning of this blog is a rebroadcast of that show with Steve and Diane. It was the first time they’d met or spoken.

(Incidentally, and presumably because they so enjoyed doing this show together, they are now co-founders with me of this new program, The-Gift-Tree.com.)

Some inconvenient facts…

In my last blog, I also pointed out some inconvenient facts that NOBODY has been able to dispute—

  • In EVERY single major financial scandal, corporate leaders had acted IN CLEAR VIOLATION of their company’s beautifully written Code of Ethics.
  • When faced with a choice between integrity and furthering their own personal financial interests, these leaders ALL chose their personal financial interests, rather than integrity.
  • What many of  these leaders had in common was that each was educated in our finest business schools.
  • In the aftermath of those scandals, the business schools were charged with making our future business leaders more sensitive to ethics. 
  • Since then, numerous studies have now revealed that there is MORE CHEATING IN BUSINESS SCHOOLS than in ANY OTHER SCHOOL.
  • These studies also revealed that the deans and faculties of these business schools ALL knew about this cheating epidemic, yet were doing LITTLE OR NOTHING about it.
  • Despite all of this, the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business that was responsible for setting guidelines for accrediting business schools REFUSED to demand that the schools seeking accreditation had in place an effective program for the teaching of ethics. Indeed, they REFUSED to MANDATE this as a condition for accreditation. In her blog, “Damn The Torpedoes,” Diane describes her futile efforts to persuade the Association to treat ethics seriously.

An irony to end all ironies…

In an irony to end all ironies, the business schools themselves ignored THE VERY MALADY they were directed to address, namely, to make our future leaders more sensitive to the need to put integrity AHEAD of furthering their narrow personal financial interests.

It seems that the business schools had their own uncomfortable choice to make—

On the one hand, could they risk their school’s personal financial interests in not upsetting actual and potential business school donors and alumni—and not upsetting parents of enrolled students by disciplining and possibly expelling cheating students? After all, there were millions of dollars at risk here…

On the other hand, could they risk abandoning any pretense of integrity by ignoring the cheating epidemic in their school?

Considering the ongoing cheating epidemic and considering they expelled few (if any) students for cheating, it seems they made the same choice as the leaders of those scandal-plagued companies made…

So, it is any wonder that business school students continued to cheat?

poor at the top

An extract from my book…

I’ve actually previously written about the corporate financial scandals and the business schools. The following is an extract from page 12 of my book, “Detecting The Scam: Nelson Mandela’s Gift,” in which I address the culpability of the business schools in the financial scams…

“When Enron collapsed, even President Bush acknowledged the problem might lie in our best schools:

‘Our schools of business must be principled teachers of right and wrong, and not surrender to moral confusion and relativism.’

Two weeks later, he spoke directly to Wall Street’s leaders, saying,

‘We need men and women of character, who know the difference between ambition and destructive greed, between justified risk and irresponsibility, between enterprise and fraud.’

The problem was staring the president in the face. It was in his audience of Wall Street leaders.

Meanwhile, in the midst of this epidemic of corporate cheating, the silence of our colleges was deafening. In a rare breath of fresh air, at least one college president, Texas A&M’s Robert Gates—later to become secretary of defense, replacing Donald Rumsfeld—acknowledged the responsibility of the nation’s universities in a post-Enron era:

‘All of these liars and cheats and thieves are graduates of our universities. The university community cannot avert its eyes and proclaim that this is not our problem, that there is nothing we can do, or that these behaviors are an aberration from the norm.’

Perhaps Nelson Mandela provides part of the answer in the starkest terms. In describing his warders’ brutal behavior on Robben Island, he wrote that bad behavior that is rewarded is repeated. Isn’t this exactly what we face?” 

Michael Friedlander
September 15,2015