There are concerns over the way business schools nurture their students as they seem to lack the human element.
THE subject of business decisions compromising the interest of society has dominated the corporate world for decades.
But recently, the reports are more frequent and spread over wider sectors of the industry.
The question that follows is whether this will be, a norm that the public at large will have to accept.
It appears that there are some players in the corporate world who give precedence to the bottom line only, such that people and other values can take a backseat.
What can we do about this situation? Stand back, watch and leave it to chance in the hope that the rule of law can prevent any intention to transgress? Or instead, we try to intervene?
Calls to stem such situations are aplenty, but not many have taken it far enough to question the education that business leaders undergo.
Dr Douglas Board with his experience in management, leadership and governance, had chosen the latter in an article he had written in the Financial Times last month.
Considering that at least 30% of the CEOs of the top 500 companies have the MBA qualification as reported in the Financial Times last year, Dr Board has every reason to bring attention to business schools.
Citing the example of the rigging by Volkswagen of its diesel emissions test result, Dr Board argues that there is connection of such a practice with the “business school industry” which incidentally is of the same age as the automotive industry.
As with Volkswagen which can by design, decide to cause harm in the name of maximising shareholders’ value, likewise, according to Dr Board, many business schools adopt the same premise. They choose to be obsessed with positions on league tables. Future leaders are dehumanised and allowed to morally drift.
Compelled by Dr Board’s candid writing, we in Putra Business School as a provider of management education, share our concern of the inadequacy of the curriculum of traditional business schools and faculty composition, in nurturing future leaders with values.
While acknowledging that bottom-line is the staple of any business in order to sustain, the school takes a stance that business leaders should appreciate that the rewards for doing business can be beyond profit.
The mantra for us is that business can be the driver to human and societal well-being.
It is the interaction of humans within and outside the organisation that matters.
So,it is about how owners of companies view their purpose for existence that will make a difference – whether it is solely about maximisation of their wealth or beyond.
But for too long, the MBA programme as the “signature item” of business schools accord pedestal position to shareholders as capital providers so that other humans are merely resources.
Flip the MBA brochures of different schools and chances are, Human Resource Management at least as a course if not an area of specialisation, features prominently.
While some may argue that the requirement for integrated reporting and triple bottom line accounting are all measures to bring wider accountability, we contend that maximising shareholders’ value as an indicator of success, remains a core yearning.
After all, assets, net of liabilities are still equity of owners.
Until and unless future leaders acknowledge their role as trustees for human well-being, decision making that results in lower return on investment for instance, will be hard to expect.
But are business school leaders convinced that the purpose of doing business can be for the larger common good?
The studies by Harvard Business Review and others have found that companies with purpose beyond profit make more money.
However in the final analysis, it is about how ready business schools are to offer a curriculum founded upon by humans as stewards who will make a difference to the training of future leaders especially on matters regarding ethical conflicts.
On this score, leadership gurus Warren Bennis and Jim O’Toole, forewarned more than a decade ago that even if a school wished to change, the challenges could be overwhelming.
With the exception of a few, generally, business schools according to both Bennis and O’Toole are built on much too narrow a focus.
We concur on this aspect of business schools being obsessed with the “scientification” of curriculum and research, giving preference to methodology that involves quantification and measurement, usually at the expense of relevance.
The recruitment process of many business schools favours those who have more potential for publication in scientific high-ranked journals so that in the words of Bennis and O’Toole: “Today it is possible to find tenured professors of management who have never set foot inside business enterprise, except as a customer.”
Drawing analogy to medical education, they highlight that cutting edge biological research are conducted by medical schools yet, most teaching faculty are medical practitioners.
What this means for a business school is the risk – that future leaders are being trained and educated based on curriculum drawn out of maps, rather than from terrain.
The representation of the real world can be flawed, much like a Mercator projected map depicting North America as larger than Africa.
The implication of such a practice is that there may be theories that do not hold true in real life, but becomes the model for decision making.
So, given such a painting that has emerged from business schools, can society still depend on them to tackle the conundrum of escalating manifestations of trust deficit among business leaders?
It is in recognition of this backdrop that Putra Business School as a home-grown postgraduate business school, took an unprecedented route to offer a curriculum that shifts the ethos of business to be one that goes beyond profit.
The centrality of being human – humans governing ourselves from inside-out through obedience and submission to the unwritten – what we term as human governance becomes our narrative.
The genesis of corporations being set up to bring prosperity to the public is revisited while the bigger purpose of being-and-existence as a human within the larger cosmos, is a regular topic of conversation.
To balance between theory and practice, rigour and relevance, model and actual, we hire practitioners to be part of faculty.
In short, we see ourselves as a business school committed to nurturing competent future human leaders underpinned by values from within.
Nonetheless, we are aware that we are treading uncharted territories.
While signals from international accreditation bodies favour the move for business schools to create impact to the community, we are unsure of the direction, locally.
We are uncertain if local assessors continue to better grade schools with higher number of tenured faculty, who are prolific academic journal contributors.
Yet, we are resolute in our journey to bring back the human – the conscience – in future leaders who will embrace societal well-being.
It is not about impacting journals but impacting the life of humans.
Prof Dr Arfah Salleh is Professor of Human Governance, Founding President and CEO, Putra Business School, Malaysia.
Source: The Star