Is Ethics Education of Future Business Leaders Adequate?

By Verschoor, Curtis C. | Strategic Finance, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Is Ethics Education of Future Business Leaders Adequate?


Verschoor, Curtis C., Strategic Finance


EVER SINCE THE ONSET OF THE ACCOUNTING AND business scandals that began two years ago, critics have asserted that a good portion of the blame for the cause of the scandals should be assigned to business educators. Corporate leaders "should have learned how to apply ethical principles in business situations at the university," detractors announce. Defensively, business school faculty have just as stridently declared that it really wasn't their fault. They claimed: "We were only preparing students for the real world."

A study of business school students' ethical attitudes showed very interesting results and surprising changes from a similar survey conducted only a year earlier. The survey covered 1,700 MBA students at 12 prominent business schools, including two in Canada and one in England. (1) It measured how future business leaders view the role of a company in society, how their attitudes toward the roles and responsibilities of a company in society are shaped by the MBA experience, and what messages MBA students are receiving from business schools about acceptable values and behaviors.

In brief, today's MBAs are concerned about possible values conflicts in their careers and are unsure that their business education is preparing them adequately. They believe issues of social responsibility should be integrated into all teaching disciplines. This suggests that today's MBAs are thinking broadly about the role of business in society. The average index of responses to the importance of managing a well-run company according to its values and a strong code of ethics was 0.7, with 1.0 representing "very important."

MBAs place primary blame for the recent spate of corporate scandals largely on the personality/character of the business leaders involved. Yet nearly half agree that the priorities communicated during business school were also a contributing factor. By a slight margin, MBA students now believe that fulfilling customer needs is the most important responsibility of a company. Last year's survey found that maximizing value for shareholders was the most important.

Half the students feel that they will have to make business decisions that conflict with their personal values. …

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