open letter to the new dean of harvard business school

dear dean light,
as an HBS grad (’93), i’d like to give you a bit of feedback. my hope is that we might start a dialog and that you might make some changes at the school that could help to save our capitalist system.
while i’m appreciative of the experience i shared, i found the school and community devoid of real concern for ethics.  i believe that this lack of an ethical backbone is part of a continuum that starts with boarding schools and flows into fortune 500 board rooms. rather than making a difference, i see HBS as helping to fuel this problem.
let me start by telling you about murry gunty, one of my classmates who was caught cheating on the election to head the finance club. rather than expell murry and send a real message to him and the community, HBS welcomed him back the following year asking him to teach a case study about his ‘ethical dilemma’. this seemed to be an HBS euphemism for cheating.
now i dont blame HBS for the existence of a few bad apples. however, i believe that corporate america much like our government has institutionalized corruption. from wall street scandals to enron; and to the 10% of US corporations who restated earnings last year; how many of these executives are graduates of your school? when does the buck ever stop?
if i were dean of HBS, i would take advantage of this regime change to ask my faculty, students and alumni whether ‘we’ are following the mission of google’s IPO prospectus, ‘dont do evil’. i would assess objectively what our market share is of corrupt execs and subjectively whether the community perceives this problem. i would then ask the community to help me define and retake the moral high ground.
HBS should stand for doing good in the world and not just making a lot of money exploiting it. HBS needs to start teaching ‘community capitalism’ and stop teaching ‘corporate capitalism’ or we will have many more enrons and they will be populated with our fellow alumni.
the corporate capitalism that predominates today is based on a principle that owners and managers are not accountable for their actions. being protected by a ‘corporate veil’ they are free to exploit their workers, environment and investors as long as they dont break the law and even then it really just means dont get caught. murry gunty was playing by the same rules but just got caught.
i believe we are the beginning of a new form of community based capitalism where owners and managers will not be able to avoid accountability. we have already seen a few successful companies like ebay, google and now craigslist – all of which are in some way co-owned by their broader interested communities. walmart is now having to spend some $500 million to buy back its community reputation. is this being taught at HBS?
finally, i recommend that you come to burning man (www.burningman.com) this year along with some of your faculty and students to see what community is about. you will learn more about this new future than any HBS case study can teach.
dean light, you have a terrific opportunity to make history. you can produce real leaders who stand for more than the next big hedge fund or corporate scandal. i hope you will call on the whole community, especially your alumni to help.
best wishes and luck in your new position,
mark pincus
— Jay Light <DeanLight@hbs.edu> wrote:
> Dear Alumni,
>
> I am honored and thrilled to be named Harvard
> Business School’s next dean.
> This is a remarkable institution, with a long legacy
> of leadership and
> innovation.  It’s been my home for more than three
> decades and is an
> important part of my life.
>
> In the months to come, I look forward to connecting
> with many of you at
> reunions on campus, at the Global Leadership Forum
> in Washington DC, and at
> various regional events we have planned.  I am
> excited by the opportunities
> that lie ahead.  Working with the School’s faculty,
> staff and students, and
> with your help, we can ensure that Harvard Business
> School completes its
> first century — and begins its second — building
> on our strong foundation
> and moving forward on key new initiatives.
>
>
> Dean Jay Light

4 thoughts on “open letter to the new dean of harvard business school

  1. I was an HBS grad in 02 — our speakers and cases in the Competitive Strategy class in 01 included tyco and AES and Enron. I especially remembered Dennis Bakke from AES because he made such a big deal about his evangelical Christian values and ethics, etc. You can see the basic line he was touting here on Pat Robertson’s site: http://www.cbn.com/700club/Guests/Bios/Dennis_Bakke042105.asp
    And you can see what really was going on at AES here:
    http://www.citizenworks.org/enron/corp-scandal.php
    I remember looking at all of these guys: Koslowski, Bakke, etc. I remember most of them paid a lot of lip service to corporate ethics and values — and in Bakke’s case to an irritating degree. It is hard to argue with success — and hard to tell when someone is winning because they are cheating, because of their Christian Values, or because they are simply good business people.
    At the same time, HBS introduced a couple of mandatory ethics classes (per your suggestion) and they were painfully dull, irrelevant, and pedantic — how they cured eye disease in India, etc. Almost everyone just “mailed it in”, unlike the usually dynamic classroom discussion. And there was an global IM chat going on with nearly 30 people on (Which never happened).
    Our ethical frameworks are basically set early in life by parents and peers. Some people will always cheat, and some people will never cheat. But most of us cheat occasionally — we exceed the speed limit, even though it is wrong to break the law. Some of us learn to lie easily and convincingly (Bill Clinton, for example, could lie like a champion). Others lie very transparently.
    Once these core values are set, our ethics are further defined by community standards, enforcement and consequences. The “broken window” theory. We may steal music on Napster for a while, but we begin to stop when we are told that the consequences could be severe, and reasonable alternatives emerge. We may trade on an inside tip, until Martha Stewart goes to jail.
    I honestly don’t think that teaching ethics at HBS would ever really make an impact. Teach the law, and consequences. Teach how certain business can use ethical businesses as powerful marketing techniques (Ben & Jerry’s)
    But there is no way that HBS can make someone enter business to help people, or make the world a better place. Or not start an “evil” company with massive negative externalities (spam, environmental pollution, etc.). Those values are set long before HBS, and that is where you need the ethics classes.

  2. kid, great points. thx! i totally agree that teaching ethics is a waste of time. my argument was a) that hbs should take a more clear stand and b) that it should spend more time teaching how ethical companies pay and unethical ones dont.

  3. you will like jeff matthews post that really holds to your post as well. Pretty cool that you both wrote them today.
    I linked to them on my site

  4. you will like jeff matthews post that really holds to your post as well. Pretty cool that you both wrote them today.
    I linked to them on my site

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