MBA: Masters of the Business Apocalypse?

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on March 13, 2009

What with the economy in a tailspin, a lot’s been written lately about what role, if any, business schools might have played in the economic apocalypse we’re living through these days.

The consensus seems to be “a big one.”

Philip Delves Broughton, a journalist who spent two years at Harvard’s MBA program and lived to tell about it in his book “Ahead of the Curve,” seems to think so—he considers MBAs “guillotine fodder” for their role in the mess.

Riffing on that story, Peter Scowen suggests that the usual derivations of MBA among the degree’s critics (Mediocre But Arrogant, Mighty Big Attitude) don’t go far enough. His suggestion? Masters of the Business Apocolypse, which has a nice “end of days” sound to it.

Even some business school insiders are now doing a little mea culpa of sorts. James Danko, the Villanova Business School dean, says “business educators must acknowledge some accountability for the current economic conditions.”

All of which got me wondering: What do BusinessWeek readers think about the role business schools played in our current economic crisis?

My own feeling is that all the people cited above are on to something--that business schools in general have focused too much on rewards, and not enough on risk, and have done a mediocre job of drawing a line in the sand when it comes to matters of ethics and values. But I haven't seen anything that really connects the dots in a meaningful way. In fact when I took a look at the educational backgrounds of individuals at the center of this mess six months ago (at what was, sadly, only the begining of the end) I concluded that non-MBAs were as likely as MBAs to lead their companies into disaster.

On the flip side, a recent survey by NetImpact and the Aspen Institute found that most current MBA students do not believe they're getting the kind of business education that will allow them to avoid the next financial disaster, assuming anyone survives this one.

So what do you think? Let us know.

Reader Comments

Robert Baker

March 25, 2009 12:41 AM

I don't believe that making simplified finger pointing assumptions at centers of higher education is either productive of proactive. What got us into this situation is a lack of education among U.S. voters and they’re unintelligent voting record. We, all of us, got us into this crisis and it is going to be us, with educated and rational solutions that get us out of it.


March 26, 2009 4:55 AM

As Robert said, I guess assuming that its the MBAs at fault for this crisis is totally ridiculous. Everyone is equally to be blamed. Most of the companies were over-financed for the last 5 yrs and din't know how to react in face of adversity. There was no contingency plan in store. The business structures and policies that had to be streamlined in the past few years are having to be done in a short period now and hence the crisis and recession !! And to come out of this mess, more than anything, it is intelligent business minds you are in need of !!

David Colburn

March 26, 2009 3:37 PM

The focus on educating business leaders as a source of accountability for the current economic crisis is missing the point I think. The lack of accountability for rational decision-making based on fundamental business ethics and basic moral values, sits firmly at the Board of Director level and with'C'-level management.

B-schools can only go so far in fostering these basic moral values. Isn't this the core working mandate for the Board of Directors? Isn't the role of the Board to act as the moral check/balance for a runaway leadership team profit motive?

On the other hand, b-schools should set a high priority on teaching basic business ethics e.g. "Business" does not mean profit at any cost.


September 10, 2009 2:31 AM

yes agree all about comments.

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