Dear Ethix – Issue 66

The MBA Oath

I thought you’d be interested in this oath for MBAs.

Rosie Perera
Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Thought you’d be interested in this – very much in line I believe with Ethix. The MBA oath is a professional oath for MBAs that has been drafted by some students at Harvard Business School.

David L. Hobbet
Evanston, Ill.

A movement to have an oath for MBAs, much like one that doctors take, is afoot. The oath may directly follow from a book that a Harvard Business School professor wrote a couple of year ago: From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. In it, the author notes that while there was a post- industrial revolution movement to legitimize and professionalize management, the structures came up short compared to other professions like law, medicine, and religious orders. MBA programs aren’t training community and global leaders, they are training technicians and doing so without any moral grounding for them.

Mark Washington
Chicago, Ill.

Having an oath of professional practice at least puts values on the table for debate and reflection, and that’s a significant step in the right direction.

Gary Ginter
Chicago, Ill.

Editor’s Note: This is a sampling of a number of letters received regarding the MBA oath developed at Harvard Business School by students. The oath is found in Ethix Tools.


I just finished the May/June edition of Ethix — once again a great read. I particularly enjoyed the piece on Twitter and Telecommuting. I must confess I am not up to speed on the whole Twitter thing. Perhaps my grandchildren can educate me.

R. Miller Adams
Columbia, Md.

Branding and Advertising

I enjoyed the Technology Watch. I would add to your observations that technology that helps people connect not only to each other, but also to ideas, causes, and groups will continue to be valuable (e.g.,

I really felt like everyone was being too soft and kind on the marketing and advertising industry. A few specific comments on that:

Mr. Travis was adamant that manipulating people through advertising was not really all that possible. I think that he means you can’t make anyone do something that they don’t already want to do. But I think that researching and tapping into subconscious desires and behaviors and then tying a brand strategy to those subconscious desires and behaviors would strike most people as manipulative. Most people don’t want someone else to know them better than they know themselves! So perhaps there is a semantic issue there.

Mr. Travis suggested that most advertisers are “guessing” as to what will be effective. This may be the case, but the fact is that even with a hit-and- miss approach, some of the advertising and branding works (as evidenced by his story of the 30-year-old jingle known to 25-year-olds). So what needs to be addressed is not whether the advertising is 100 percent effective but rather, when it is effective, have we done a good thing or a bad thing? Is creating a brand identity healthy or unhealthy? Or does it depend on the product, service, or brand being sold? Perhaps this does not feel like an issue for Mr. Travis, because he works only with companies and organizations that he feels good about. But not all advertisers or market research firms are so scrupulous. Being a “hired gun” always puts one in a position to make interesting moral choices.

What about the increasing consumer culture (touched on in your review of Consumed)? What about advertising to children (cf. Born to Buy, Selling Out America’s Children, etc.)? What kind of a world do we live in if everything is disposable, and we constantly have to buy the newest car, clothes, house to keep up? And what responsibility does a conscientious brand manager or advertising executive have in light of this?

An interesting counterpoint might have been to speak with someone who works to re-brand companies that have taken media hits, by adding socially responsible or “green” values to their brand identity. There could be a discussion of whether this is good or bad and whether these changes are substantive or superficial. A discussion of whether a brand can hold up if promises are not kept might also have been interesting, perhaps including positive and negative examples.

Mark Oppenlander
Seattle, Wash.