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When MBAs Speak

Like it or not, MBAs influence a lot of what happens in the world.  They run major companies.  They lead innovative startups. They build the business plans and crunch the numbers that fuel a lot of our economy and culture.

Like it or not, MBAs influence a lot of what happens in the world.  They run major companies.  They lead innovative startups. They build the business plans and crunch the numbers that fuel a lot of our economy and culture.

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I don’t have an MBA, nor any desire to get one — but I recognize the importance of listening to folks who do.  So, I wanted to share a few nuggets from a new report being released today by Net Impact, an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to make a positive impact on society by growing and strengthening a community of leaders who use business to improve the world. In short, its a big group of (mostly) MBAs who are trying to do more with the businesses they start and run.

The new report surveys over 1,800 students, representing more than 80 business programs to better understand current MBA student opinion on career choices, business school curriculum, the economy, and the relationship between business and social/environmental issues. A few of the key results stood out:

1) 90% of today’s graduate students blame a focus in business on short-term rather than long-term results as one of the contributing factors to the global financial crisis.  Not only do I think this is true, I see little evidence that the major players in the economy intend to shift their focus in a any significant way. This needs to change — and we have an opportunity to do so now, as we rebuild and re-think how the global economy operates.  A focus on long-term value and sustainability (not green/enviro sustainability, consistent success) and not short-term profit is the first step.

2) Less than a third (31%) of respondents think that corporations are working towards the betterment of society. I agree, but I am not so naive as to believe that companies should be ‘giving back’ because its the right thing to do.  That is true, it is the right thing to do, but the reason that companies should be working towards the betterment of society is because it is good business.  Short-term thinking with regard to how we use natural resources, or how customers are supported contributed to the economic meltdown that is currently sweeping the globe.  

Its worth noting that the students surveyed for the report believe that the for-profit sector should play a role in addressing social and environmental issues (88%) and that being responsible leads to corporate profits (77%).  The next generation of business leaders clearly understand — not sure why the current ones don’t (at least not enough).

Perhaps most importantly, the survey suggests that that business schools place moderate or little emphasis on the major challenges that are facing business leaders of the future — healthcare, education, the environment, etc.  In other words, the curriculum at most business schools is not adequate to prepare the next generation of business leaders for the challenges that they will face.  We will have to re-think and re-engineer the way we teach MBAs if we expect them to change the course of the economy, or re-invision the way companies should run in the future.  Probably should haven’t thought of that a while ago.

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You can access at copy of the full report at http://www.netimpact.org/perspectives.