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5 Things to Know About the MBA Oath

September 18, 2020
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The MBA Oath has been taken by more than 10,000 students around the globe. It’s a voluntary oath created with the goal of upholding ethical standards in business and management, but it also serves as a challenge for MBA graduates to go further to better their business community and society at large.1

The idea became popularized at the Harvard School of Business when two professors suggested the need for a “Hippocratic oath” to guide MBA graduates through their careers. Their goal was to bring a formalized code of ethics to managers, similar to doctors and lawyers. Their essay points out that these two professions are required to meet a standard in how they treat patients and clients as well as to a larger societal need. For example, lawyers are responsible for finding justice for their clients and upholding justice in the entire criminal justice system.

“It is thus best for managers to have a higher-order purpose—viewing society as their ultimate client and society’s interest in vibrant, sustainable, value-creating enterprises as their foremost objective.”2

Below, learn more about the MBA Oath itself and its relationship with ethical business practices and business schools around the globe.

What is the MBA Oath?

There are eight promises laid out in the oath put forth by Harvard’s MBA students. They cover three main areas:

  • Inspire and support MBAs who commit to creating value responsibly and ethically;
  • Challenge all MBAs to work with a higher professional standard, whether or not they sign the MBA Oath;
  • Create a public conversation about professionalizing and improving management.1

The goal is for graduates to understand that their role in society is greater than themselves. They’re committing to being leaders and managers who add to the world through their beliefs and actions.

How did the MBA Oath become popular?

It started in 2009 with the graduating class of the Harvard Business School. Following the recent financial crisis, the collapse of companies such as Enron and Lehman Brothers, as well as the arrest of investor Bernie Madoff, a group of business students wanted to create change in their field. Inspired by their professors, they encouraged their entire class to commit to more ethical principles in business.

Also, in 2010, young leaders at the World Economic Forum announced their “Global Business Oath” for leaders, with input from faculty and schools from across the globe.3

Has the MBA Oath worked?

When discussing the relevance of an MBA Oath in 2015, two professors, one from the United States and the other from Nigeria, recognized that without the legal structure or societal encouragement, it might be impossible for it to be widely adopted.4

The challenge of effectively implementing ethical standards is that MBA graduates are not doctors or lawyers. While specific degrees are required to in practice either profession, they also require additional licenses and experience. After graduating from medical school, a doctor must complete a residency and a lawyer must pass a bar exam, for example.

Meanwhile, an MBA isn’t required for professionals at any level of business. The decisions managers make are rarely as clear cut either: They are responsible for their employees, clients and various stakeholders, but what happens when their needs are in direct opposition to the long-term success of an organization? This can make the MBA Oath a much more challenging commitment to make.

Should the MBA Oath be for business students or schools?

Some think the answer to making the MBA Oath and its ethical standards more commonplace is focusing on the business schools themselves. Some programs have an honor code, but it goes beyond a promise. It’s a critical component of their curriculum.

Demand is growing for MBAs, but students do not always find a meaningful education where ethics is a critical component of classwork and programming. So, it’s critical to have experienced faculty who focus on the development of leadership skills and their real-world application. In addition to critical-thinking and problem-solving experience, students need a comprehensive understanding of the impact their careers can have.

Today, business schools have the opportunity to promote ethical decision making and celebrate students and alumni who think about more than the bottom line.4

Challenge Expectations with Seattle U

The year the MBA Oath launched at Harvard only 20 percent of the 2009 class signed the oath.5 However, today’s economic climate might create a renewed interest in ethical business practices.

At Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics, we’re transforming how business gets done through both of our online graduate programs. While students in our Online MS in Business Analytics develop a strong ethical framework critical for data translators, every course in our Online MBA program features a Leadership Challenge. This assignment asks students to problem solve and learn to lead more ethically and effectively. See how our MSBA curriculum trains adaptable and strategic ethical leaders—or learn more about the four key elements of the MBA Leadership Challenges, including the fundamental skills of listening and learning as well as empathizing and examining.

  1. Retrieved on September 9, 2020, from mbaoath.org/history-new
  2. Retrieved on September 9, 2020, from hbr.org/2008/10/its-time-to-make-management-a-true-profession
  3. Retrieved on September 10, 2020, from thunderbird.asu.edu/article/young-global-leaders-unveil-global-business-oath
  4. Retrieved on September 9, 2020, from ft.com/content/e853f5a2-fe41-11e4-8efb-00144feabdc0
  5. Retrieved on September 10, 2020, from nytimes.com/2009/05/30/business/30oath.html