Socially Responsible MBAs?


MBAs are known for their ability to produce spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and references to case studies at a moment's notice. But ask them about their role as environmental and social stewards and you may get some blank stares. That's because few B-schools teach the basics in socially responsible business to their MBAs, according to Beyond Grey Pinstripes, a study released on Oct. 31. The Aspen Institute's Initiative for Social Innovation through Business and the World Resources Institute (WRI), both nonprofits, run the study to assess B-schools' ability to impart green-friendly management lessons to future execs.

According to Pinstripes, the top B-schools for social-impact management are Harvard Business School, Loyola Marymount University, the University of Michigan Business School, University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, and York University's Schulich School in Canada (see table below). Pinstripes bases its rating on a 20-question survey sent to 463 graduate B-schools between November, 2000, and January, 2001.

Just 122 schools responded, with 82 reporting that they offer some courses on sustainability or the environment and business. Well-rated schools incorporate social-impact management into student coursework (50% of their total score), offer institutional support to develop new research and sponsor campus events (30%), and employ faculty who are actively pursuing research in social impact management (20%).

UNAVOIDABLE. The study's top schools for environmental management are George Washington University, University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, Michigan, Kenan-Flagler, and Yale University's School of Management. "We have a faculty commitment to this broad issue of sustainability, not only from an ecological perspective but also from an urban-development perspective," says Kenan-Flagler Dean Robert Sullivan. A six-year alum of Peace Corp duty and other assignments in Ethiopia, Sullivan says it's not possible to avoid the topic in Kenan-Flagler classrooms because at least 15 faculty members have addressed such areas in their research.

Schools that fell short relegated topics such as ethics, nonprofit management, and public policy to elective courses. "The real innovation in business education is found in courses that blend social-impact management with traditional business disciplines, such as finance, accounting, marketing, and organizational behavior -- courses taken by the majority of MBA students," according to the study.

According to Pinstripes' third survey, B-schools have a long way to go before they produce well-rounded MBAs. Since the inaugural report in 1998, its researchers had hoped that the news would improve. Not so. "There's a glaring lack of research and publications at the schools [on these topics], with exception of the leading schools," says Jennifer Layke, director of business engagement for the Sustainable Enterprise Program at WRI.

POOR MARKS. Layke's concerns seem justified. "We live in a world of oftentimes tragic choices," says Judith Samuelson, executive director of the Initiative for Social Innovation through Business at Aspen. "Business schools are ground zero of training the future society," Samuelson says. With about 320,000 people enrolled in graduate business schools worldwide and applications on the rise, according to BusinessWeek Online's current data, Samuelson says it's time for schools to "step up" to their broader responsibilities.

In focus-group sessions, businesspeople hand schools poor marks in these areas, as well. "People in companies such as ours are being asked to address issues that weren't on our agendas 10 years ago," says Pamela Flaherty, senior vice-president for global community relations at Citigroup. For that reason, she says, schools should invest in more research to weave topics of sustainability through MBA curriculums. And the grads? "Some MBAs couldn't care less and just want to do deals. There are others for whom this is deeply important," Flaherty says.

Some schools say they plan to offer more socially focused content to students in the future. Duke University's Fuqua School of Business was surveyed by Pinstripes but didn't make the study's top listings. Fuqua Dean Douglas Breedan says the school is doing more to "beef up" its courses to address social issues. "The students got there before the faculty did," he admits of the school's decision to give such topics more attention. But it has to happen, since "there are too many examples of companies that got burned by not paying attention to societal concerns," Breedan says.

A DISCONNECT. That's a good start, but most schools are nowhere near Pinstripes' standards. Through Oct. 12, a BusinessWeek Online survey found that just 7 of 403 schools report adding new faculty positions in the areas of ethics and environmental studies in the past three years. Even winners of academic awards from the Pinstripes survey aren't optimistic that schools will play a more active role in this area. "I wouldn't look to business schools for social change," says Arthur P. Brief, winner of the study's academic leadership award and director of the Institute for the Study of Ethics & Leadership in Management at Tulane University's B-school. "As an educator, that makes me sad."

Faculty members say graduating socially and environmentally sensitive MBAs won't happen until corporate recruiters base their hiring decisions in part on such credentials. The Pinstripes study points out a disconnect between what senior executives at companies say they want from MBAs and what recruiters search for.

Says R. Bruce Hutton, professor of marketing at Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver and a Pinstripes faculty award winner: "Executives all say that these are interesting and important characteristics to have in an MBA program. But that attitude doesn't necessarily connect downstream to folks in charge of recruiting."

A GROWING CLUB. That leaves students to push the socially responsible agenda. On many campuses, students coordinate volunteer programs, MBA games to support charities, and speakers series about

business and the environment. But even a top-ranked school has room for improvement. Omri S. Dahan, 27, a senior consultant at Trium Group in Cambridge, Mass., graduated from Harvard Business School in 2001. In his required MBA courses, "there were a couple of cases about nonprofit [organizations], but no case focused on profitable corporate sustainability as an issue," he says.

In April, 2000, he and classmate Rahul Shendure started the now-150-member Sustainable Development Society because other campus clubs "didn't address real issues in getting sustainability conversations happening in the classroom." In five years, the club hopes to have convinced faculty to write and use cases in class that demonstrate that companies "can do even better financially by doing good."

Dahan has company. The 122 students surveyed by Pinstripes in December, 2000, barely gave schools' efforts a passing grade. All were members of Net Impact, a network of students across North America dedicated to using the power of business to create a better world. The MBAs say faculty members earn a D+ for raising environmental and/or social topics in core courses, and hand their classmates a C for raising the same topics in class.

"THE BIG ISSUES." Adds Dahan: "Harvard, as the preeminent business school in world, should be taking a lead in developing research and intellectual capital, common frameworks for understanding the issues, and MBA graduates who are not only aware and versed in the issues but committed to addressing them through their careers."

A glimmer of hope comes from schools that have tested the model. "Our graduates realize what the big issues are in the world, ways to look at those issues, and how to make sense of them in business," says David Wheeler, a former executive with The Body Shop retail chain and now director of the Business & Sustainability Program at the Schulich School of Business. "There's an inevitability about the students wanting the skills to succeed, and this will be driven [at B-schools] by market need." It's just a matter of time before more B-schools take that lesson to heart.

Teaching Social Conscience: How They Score

Leading MBA programs incorporating social impact management

Programs at the cutting edge

Student

coursework

Institutional

support

Faculty

research

Harvard (U.S.)

Loyola Marymount (U.S.)

Michigan (U.S.)

North Carolina

(Kenan-Flagler) (U.S.)

York (Schulich) (Canada)

Programs showing significant activities

Student

coursework

Institutional

support

Faculty

research

UC Berkeley (Haas)

(U.S.)

UCLA (Anderson) (U.S.)

Case Western Reserve

(Weatherhead) (U.S.)

George Washington (U.S.)

EGADE-ITESM (Mexico)

New Mexico (Anderson) (U.S.)

Pennsylvania (Wharton) (U.S.)

Pittsburgh (Katz) (U.S.)

Stanford (U.S.)

Wake Forest (Babcock) (U.S.)

Yale (U.S.)

Leading MBA programs incorporating environmental management

Programs at the cutting edge

Student

coursework

Institutional

support

Faculty

research

George Washington (U.S.)

University of Jyvaskyla (Finland)

Michigan (U.S.)

North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) (U.S.)

Yale (U.S.)

Programs showing significant activities

Student

coursework

Institutional

support

Faculty

research

UC Berkeley (Haas) (U.S.)

UCLA (Anderson) (U.S.)

Harvard (U.S.)

Hong Kong Polytechnic (China)

Illinois Institute of Technology (Stuart)

(U.S.)

EGADE-ITESM (Mexico)

Pennsylvania (Wharton) (U.S.)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Lally)

(U.S.)

-

Vanderbilt (Owen) (U.S.)

York (Schulich) (Canada)

NOTE: Schools are listed in alphabetical order.

The stars reflect the rating of the school in each category.

DATA: World Resources Institute, The Aspen Institute.

By Mica Schneider in New York


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