In his 2004 book, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development, Henry Mintzberg wrote "MBA graduates who believe they can manage anything are quite simply a menace to society." Is it a coincidence that George Bush and Katherine Weymouth both have MBAs from the Harvard School of Business?
Bush was the first U.S. president with an MBA. He lied to the American public about WMD in Iraq in order to promote a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein. As the entitled son of a privileged, powerful family, he had a pattern of believing he never did anything wrong (see Justin Frank's Bush on the Couch).
Weymouth is the first publisher of the Washington Post who has an MBA. According to the New York Times her paper promoted corporate sponsorships:
[For] a fee of $25,000 for one, or $250,000 for an entire series for an exclusive "Washington Post salon" at Ms. Weymouth's home in which officials from Congress and the administration, lobbyists and, yes, the paper's own reporters could have a quiet, off-the-record dinner, discussions to be led by Marcus Brauchli, the newspaper's editor. Theoretically, you can't buy Washington Post reporters, but you can rent them.
As an entitled daughter of a privileged, powerful family, Weymouth, like Bush, did not earn her job on merit, but got it because she is a member of the Luck Sperm Club -- she is the granddaughter of Katherine Graham, whose family controls the Washington Post.
Is it a random occurrence that both Bush and Weymouth come from privileged backgrounds, didn't really earn their jobs on their own merits, and have MBAs from the Harvard Business School? I don't think so.
Mintzberg writes that "MBA programs by their very nature attract many of the wrong people -- too impatient, too analytical, and too much need-to-control." He also writes that most MBA programs teach about analyzing numbers, not managing people, and that by concentrating on the numbers and on the concept of maximizing shareholder value, graduates arrogantly believe they can manage any business. (Jim Collins in his new book How the Mighty Fall refers to short-term investors as "shareflippers," a term I like for the current breed of greedy Wall Street types.)
Weymouth worked at the Post for 12 years before she became publisher. But during that time she either didn't fully understand the importance of the separation between church and state for a newspaper or didn't know that the marketing department was sending out a flier promoting a deal that had only been considered but not approved. In ether case she should have known better before she damaged her paper's reputation and had to publish an apology to readers.
It almost seems that Weymouth, like Bush, arrogantly believed she could do no wrong, which likely comes from a sense of entitlement after getting a job she didn't earn and, of more concern, from what she learned in her MBA program -- think of your own needs first (to demonstrate how successful and smart you are), not about the core values of your organization (journalism ethics), and not about customers (readers).
It's probably not fair to blame the Harvard MBA program for the moral and ethical lapses of Bush, Weymouth, and greedy Wall Street bankers who are graduates, but it seems to me to be fair to ask the question, "what values are MBA program's like Harvard's teaching?"
And, to its credit, the Harvard Business School is asking itself that question. Several months ago it hosted an open conversation on the subject on its website. We can only hope that Harvard and other MBA programs take a look at themselves and see what they can do to stop turning out graduates who, like Henry Mintzberg said, "are quite simply a menace to society."
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