mba_oath.jpgGreed is not good.

Ambition, yes. Enlightened, civilized, balanced self-interest, yes. A burning desire to achieve, a deep yearning to be the best, a fever to accomplish, all good. They all help drive forward the engine of human progress.

Greed is not good. Greed is rapacious avarice, unbounded excess. Greed is insatiable gluttony, intemperate graspingness. Greed is much more than a normal fire in the belly, more than a driving desire to win. Greed is the desire to win at all cost. Greed throws all principles out the door. Greed knows no ethics, no lasting friendships, no bounds.

For too long America’s business schools (most funded, ironically, by tax dollars) have by and large taught their students that their sole duty, their ONLY duty, is to maximize shareholder value. No social compact, no obligation to leave the world a better place, no duty toward society as a whole, no respect for human dignity or for the world in which we live. Classes in ethics have been the exception, far from the rule.

The hallmarks of a professional are recognizing an obligation to a meaning, to a purpose higher than narrow self-interest, acknowledging a fiduciary responsibility to society as a whole. Until business embraces a code of ethics and a duty higher than mere pursuit of mammon, it cannot be a true profession.

In a promising start, almost “20 percent of the graduating class have signed ‘The M.B.A. Oath,’ a voluntary student-led pledge that the goal of a business manager is to ‘serve the greater good.’ It promises that Harvard MBAs will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their ‘own narrow ambitions’ at the expense of others.” (The New York Times, May 29, 2009, “A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality.”)

It would be wonderful if, as a condition of receiving federal aid, business schools were required to teach that it is the ethical responsibility of every business manager to serve the greater good. The pursuit of profit must always be balanced by the boundaries of the social contract, a recognition of the deep moral obligation we have to each other.

Closing Quotes

“You can’t get enough of what you don’t need.” — Unknown

“Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” — Erich Fromm

“Hell has three gates: lust, anger and greed.” — Buddha