08/19/2010 01:34 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

MBA at the Crossroads -- Transactional Myopia or Transformational Vision

Twenty years ago a native from Africa was visiting Manhattan and was asked: "What do you think?" He replied: "They don't see the sky."

The same native returned recently and was asked the same question. This time he replied: "They don't see each other."

If "the sky" represents a noble vision that creates a better world that will lift all boats and peoples to serve everyone better and if "not seeing each other" means that caring relationships have been replaced by transactions, then one group that is greatly responsible for this are MBA's from the last twenty years.  The transactional myopia of "get the deal, do the deal, next deal" that has replaced "add value and leave the world better than you found it" has not only corrupted the business landscape, it has contaminated home lives where conspicuous consumption and keeping busy has replaced "seeing (and relating to) each other."

If Wall Street and MBAs are equivalent and if Main Street and "salt of the Earth" are the same and if Wall Street/MBAs are seen as not caring -- and "laughing their way to the bank" to add insult to injury by Main Street/"salt of the Earth" -- then the MBA community has a real brand challenge if they are to regain trust, confidence and respect.  In all honesty, I think that even though the rest of the world was jealous of and maybe even impressed by Wall Street/MBAs, they never liked them because of their arrogance, greed and now proven "more lucky than smart" abilities.   

However Main Street looked the other way as far as their negative feelings because when everyone was making money on everything, they could tolerate Wall Street/MBAs making tons of money as long as they could make more money through investing than they could through their jobs.

The good news is that there is now a tremendous opportunity for the MBAs from the next twenty years to give back to the world to make up for what those from the past have taken from it.  For that to happen, MBA programs will need to change what and how they teach in the two years that they have to inspire, embolden, teach and train business professionals of the future.

Enter John Byrne, former editor-in-chief of and executive editor of BusinessWeek and now CEO and Chairman of his self-funded (talk about having skin in the game) company C-Change Media.  C-Change is dedicated to making the business world and the world beyond better by providing Content, Curation and Community.  C-Change's first satellite site is Poets and Quants which is aimed at the MBA education community.  According to Business Insider's Henry Blodget , Mr. Byrne has very good aim and has "drawn a bullseye on our back (the B-school community) and is hatching plans to kill us."

I take issue with that assessment.  I think what Mr. Byrne aims to do is make MBA schools more transparent, accountable, honorable and better able to fulfill their potential to create business leaders that will make the world not just more profitable, but better in general.   And to quote Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis he's doing it by shining that "sunlight that is the best disinfectant" on what B-schools actually do and don't do.  He's also providing an immense service to anyone interested in the B-School community by pitting one school against another in terms of :

  • Geography
  • Size
  • Facilities
  • Teaching Methods
  • Program Focus
  • On-Campus Recruiting
  • Rankings
  • Historical Rankings by BusinessWeek.
  • Historical Rankings by The Financial Times
  • Admissions
  • Enrollment
  • Poets & Quants (poets = from undergraduate liberal arts backgrounds; quants = from analytic/finance/economics backgrounds)
  • Jobs and Pay

By exposing to the light of day the actual "marrow" of B-schools as opposed to reading their professionally developed marketing material that might distract you from their weaknesses, Poets and Quants is providing a much needed service that can only make the quality of MBA graduates better and the missions they serve nobler.

And when that happens we will all start to see the sky and maybe even get back to seeing each other.