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To Serve The Greater Good

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

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One Comment

  • M. Bennett
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 2:53 PM | Permalink

    A different way to phrase the argument against people that do not care for “greedy” corporations is to say that people that want corporations to sell things at a discount or give their profits to charity are in fact “greedy.” They want to take the fruits of somebody else’s labor and distribute it as they see fit. They want to dictate to others what to do with money that they had no part in earning.

    Any money that somebody makes is a direct extension of a part of their life spent laboring either mentally or physically. Nobody has a right to take somebody’s life away from them, nor would they ever ask to do just that. But they are perfectly fine demanding money from others that make too much, conveniently forgetting what money actually represents (a portion of somebody’s life).

    Greed is good. Greed is what drives people to risk everything in the hopes of making it big. I wake up every day and go to work and try to take as much as I legally can from society. I want to make a ton of money and I want to be successful. If my success means that somebody else has less, then so be it. If somebody else beats me and I lose everything, then so be it. But, I will never begrudge the person that worked smarter and harder than me to get ahead.

    I will not begrudge the person that charges outlandish prices for something that nobody else can or will offer. If I am so truly upset about it that I wish to take from that person, then I will. But I will do it through running a better business than them, working harder than them, and eventually taking their market share. Not by shaming them for doing something that I myself could not or would not do.

    If you are upset that somebody has managed to make more than you, go out and do something about it. Don’t begrudge somebody because they are more successful than you. Their selfishness is what drove them to be successful, and it is celebrated in all parts of life except business (mainly sports and entertainment). If everybody went out tomorrow and tried to grab every last thing that they possibly could from this world, what is the worse that would happen?

    The problem isn’t that some people are greedy, it is that not enough people are greedy. Far too many people are content to sit on the sidelines of life and cry poor mouth. If you let somebody take advantage of you in the business world, then you are not doing your job. You are not covering your bases. And, ultimately, you have no right condemn the person that has proven to be better than you.

    In the words of Rocky Balboa:

    “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! If you know what you’re worth, Go out and Get What Your Worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”

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