What's your opinion of business ethics?
June 9, 2009 1:26am CST
Amitai Etzioni is not surprised by the latest heading about corporate crooks.As a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School in 1989,he ended his work there disgusted with his students' overwhelming lust for money."They're taught that profit is all that matters,"he says,"Many schools don't even offer ethics course at all." Etzioni expressed his frustration about the interests of his graduate students."By and large,I clearly had not found a way to help classes full of MBAs see that there is more to life than money,power,fame and self-interest,"he wrote at the time.Today he still takes the blame for not educating these "business-leader-to-be."I really feel like I failed them,"he says,"if I was a better teacher maybe I could have reached them." Etzioni was a respected ethics expert when he arrived at Harvard.He hoped his work at the university would give him insight into how questions of morality could be applied to places where self-interst flourished.What he found wasn't encouraging.Those would-be executives had,says Etzioni,little interest in concepts of ethics and morality in the boardroom-and their professor was met with blank stares when he urged his students to see business in new and different ways. Etzioni sees the experience at Harvard as an eye-opening one and says there's a lot about business schools that he'd like to change."A lot of the faculty teaching business are bad news themselves,"Etzioni says.From offering classes that teach students how to legally manipulate contracts,to reinforcing the notion of profit over community interests,Etzioni has seen a lot that's left him shaking his head.And because of what he's seen taught in business schools,he's not surprised by the latest rash of corporate scandals."In many ways things have got a lot worse at business schools,I suspect,"says Etzioni. Etzioni is still teaching the sociology of right and wrong and still calling for ethical business leadership."People with poor motives will always exist,"he says."Sometimes environments constrain those people and sometimes environments give those people oppotunity."Etzioni says the booming economy of the last decade enabled those individuals with poor motives to get rich before getting in trouble.His hope now:that cries for reform will provide more fertile soil for his longstanding messages about business ethics.