From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession

From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession

From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession

From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession

Synopsis


Is management a profession? Should it be? Can it be? This major work of social and intellectual history reveals how such questions have driven business education and shaped American management and society for more than a century. The book is also a call for reform. Rakesh Khurana shows that university-based business schools were founded to train a professional class of managers in the mold of doctors and lawyers but have effectively retreated from that goal, leaving a gaping moral hole at the center of business education and perhaps in management itself.

Khurana begins in the late nineteenth century, when members of an emerging managerial elite, seeking social status to match the wealth and power they had accrued, began working with major universities to establish graduate business education programs paralleling those for medicine and law. Constituting business as a profession, however, required codifying the knowledge relevant for practitioners and developing enforceable standards of conduct. Khurana, drawing on a rich set of archival material from business schools, foundations, and academic associations, traces how business educators confronted these challenges with varying strategies during the Progressive era and the Depression, the postwar boom years, and recent decades of freewheeling capitalism.

Today, Khurana argues, business schools have largely capitulated in the battle for professionalism and have become merely purveyors of a product, the MBA, with students treated as consumers. Professional and moral ideals that once animated and inspired business schools have been conquered by a perspective that managers are merely agents of shareholders, beholden only to the cause of share profits. According to Khurana, we should not thus be surprised at the rise of corporate malfeasance. The time has come, he concludes, to rejuvenate intellectually and morally the training of our future business leaders.

Excerpt

Modern management has long been one of the most powerful but invisible of American institutions—invisible not in the sense of being out of the public eye but in the sense that its control of many of society's most powerful organizations has become so taken for granted, and its influence so pervasive, that it has evaded searching scrutiny.

This idea might seem counterintuitive today, when in less than a decade we have gone from the era of the charismatic, superstar CEO of the likes of Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch to a historical moment that has seen not just the deflation of erstwhile icons such as Carly Fiorina and “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap but the conviction and imprisonment of others, such as Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Ebbers, who turned out to have used their celebrated business acumen to enrich themselves while defrauding investors. Yet the dramatic contrast between the CEO as superhero and the CEO as antihero has obscured the underlying links between these two types, which have appeared on the scene only in the last twenty-five years or so. Moreover, not even the profusion of corporate scandals since the beginning of the current decade has prompted the question why it is that managers run corporations.

As the late Alfred Chandler has detailed in a series of famous studies, modern industrial capitalism in the United States was rooted not so much in the rough-and-tumble world of the robber barons (the original incarnation of the charismatic business leader) as in a more complex, depersonalized environment in which technological advances made possible both previously unimaginable economies of scale and the creation of a national market. Realizing the economic advantages of these new technologies, Chandler argued, rested on the efforts of a new type of individual working in the upper and middle ranks of large organizations, a figure who did not fit into conventional economic distinctions between capital and labor. Neither owner nor worker, this new economic actor, the manager, performed work that, while not as visible and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.