Thursday, November 20, 2008

Amoral MBA Students

MBA students, perhaps not to anyone's surprise, are cheaters.  MBA students cheat on the GMAT's so they can get into top B-Schools.  MBA students also willingly admit to cheating once they're in B-School, and MBA students obviously act amorally and immorally once they're out of B-School.  
Keep this in mind as I present the results of an informal, professor-administered poll taken in my Derivatives class this Tuesday.  The class discussion began with talk of everything that's been happening lately, as usual, and the professor believed illegal actions will eventually come to light regarding actions at the Wall Street firms (pressuring ratings agencies, exchanging favors for good ratings on toxic CDO's etc.).  Some students expressed anger at the immorality of it all, others questioned whether anything illegal had actually happened or whether it was simply irresponsibility that caused it all.  In light of the class discussion, the professor presented a class with the following situation:
You work somewhere in the finance industry nine months from now, and I present you with an opportunity to make $5 million.  However, you have to do something illegal to get the $5 million. The chance you'll be caught for doing this illegal act is 50%. Further, the maximum sentence you'll receive is four years and the chance of receiving the four years is also 50%. No matter what happens, if you're caught and sentenced to three years, you'll still get to keep the $5 million.  Would you do it?
Almost everyone in class raised their hands.
Here are the demographics of the class, as best I can guess.  It's a mixed class with both MS and MBA students since Derivatives is an elective for MBA-ers.  The class size is roughly 90 students, all ranging in age from 26-34 (my best guess).  The mix is approximately 50% Asian and South Asian, 40% American (all races) and 10% other (from the accents I'm guessing Russian, German, South American and Latin American).  Males comprise about 70% of the class.
There were little demographic differences among those who raised their hands, at least as far as I noticed, other than the few married women who didn't.  If you must know, I also raised my hand, but it's not a static answer for me. I'm on the upper end of that age range and four years is a long time for me to be rotting in a jail cell.  I've got friends and family I love dearly and wouldn't want to miss seeing.  I'm also certain that if I figured out who exactly I'd be damaging with my immoral / illegal actions, I might not follow through.  I find it's a lot easier to answer "yes" to a question of an illegal act when the question is asked in a void, but it's also much tougher to actually follow through on that act in real life.  
All this is beside the point, however. MBA Students (and MS - Finance students) are supposed to be smarter and (I suppose) less immoral than rest of the world.  I imagine the results of this poll would skew quite high if given to the population at-large, but the class this poll was asked of are supposed to be future leaders -- future leaders of large corporations that will hold the financial well being of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of workers' lives in their hands.  
All the students wrote essays to gain admittance to school, and all their essays discussed the "good" they'd like to do in their future career as well as the unique and interesting career paths they believe that earning an MBA will open for them (management consulting and investment banking, at the time the essays were written, are unique?).
Anyway, nearly all the students I know are in B-School to make more money.  There are few non-profit, humanitarian types in the program but for the most part we're all here just to earn larger paychecks. That's it. Plain and simple.  
So basically, 90% of MBA students are not just generally a bunch of cheats but also liars since their admissions essays were anything but honest!  And yes, I'm completely comfortable extending generalizations to every B-School and MBA student in the country after the completely unscientific and informal polling I conducted at mine.  I wonder if, when they're reading the admittance essays, the adcoms aren't just looking for the most riveting piece of fiction they can find since we all lied about our future hopes to save the whales and the rainforest? Well, maybe after we make our first $100 million we'll have whaletanks installed in our mansions and rainforest terrariums installed in our million dollar greenhouses, thereby following through on the empty promises we wrote in our essays.
All this pretty much got me wondering whether financial gain attracts the amoral / immoral or whether the amoral / immoral are attracted to financial gain?  I have to admit that I give the professors a lot of credit for trying their hardest to sway us and the HR Profs do an especially admirable job in this respect, but if the students are already money chasing cheaters, what difference can a few enlightened lectures make?  
Anyway, in the wake of the meltdown and news items claiming MBA degrees are no longer worth it, I'm really starting to think I should have earned my Master's in something less sleazy, more honest and more respected....  like law!  Hey, at least I'd have a job next year prosecuting all those immoral MBA-ers who caused this mess. 


Storm Bunny said...

Good Morning! How's your coffee today? I actually have some other interesting data on this matter. I have no idea how it works in other countries, but in Costa Rica an MBA stopped being a sing of scholar tendencies and rather an "I have money" sign. Mostly people who is already working goes for these and they pretty much pay for the title and get it. No sweat. In several cases there are no test, no final exams, and people do some whatever little project, which is done by their secretaries and assistants, and then get the three letters and the diploma to frame and hang on the wall.

The tendency is so widespread, and there are so many cases of people who never really finished College or University, but have an MBA, that it has lost value completely. It's good to get a raise if you work for the Government, but outside it, you better hide it or people will think you are "one of those who don't work for the things, but buy them already made." So cheating? Yes, it becomes second nature.

PS. No, I'm not an MBA, nor an MSc. I would kind of be ashamed of being so.

Anonymous said...

"All this is beside the point, however. MBA Students (and MS - Finance students) are supposed to be smarter and (I suppose) less immoral than rest of the world. "

Why? You're recruiting people whose sole desire is to line their own pockets. Why do you think education implies superior morality?

What planet are you on? The more you coddle children with private schools and fancy cars, the more likely they are to be deluded into a self-aggrandized view of themselves. Most wealthy children (you'll find most top MBA students have a silver spoon) are schooled in NARCISSISM.

I'm near a top B-school and I listen to these people cackle hysterically in cafes, gloating about themselves in extended j-erk off sessions.

They seek the emblems of success and status by any means they can!
That's how their raised so that's how they see the world.

nick said...

"All this is beside the point, however. MBA Students (and MS - Finance students) are supposed to be smarter and (I suppose) less immoral than rest of the world. "

This statement is your problem. Somehow the word smart attaches to these people. 'Smart', meaning the ability to wear a tie, has come to mean the height of all human achievement. There is no connection with morals, and in realty, no connection even with brains or character or courage These people turn up in and fit in. Thats it. They belong in the system and they might as well be in prison for all their contribution to anyone but themselves

Sprizouse said...

@ Nick and Anon: The current level of vitriol directed at everyone in b-school (including professors) is somewhat misplaced, I think. There are some two million MBA's in the world and the vast majority of them aren't lying, cheating, thieving criminals.

I agree (obviously) on some levels about the amorality of the students, but nearly all the professors try to dispense lessons and teach with a heavy-handed, moralistic approach. The types of books we read and the cases we study, when not conveying a direct strategic lesson, often convey the benefits of being a gentle, magnanimous manager; the benefits of listening to, and encouraging employees and, finally, the benefits of corporate social responsibility to your company's community.

I think you're both a little right that the morals aren't at the level we'd hope in MBA students. However, I don't believe they're nearly so bad as the two of you would have it. Without some sort of control group and more stringent research, none of can really say whether the lure of money is more, or less, corrupting on MBA's than it is on the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 1994 MBA from a school that thinks of itself as Top 3. I can assure you that this debate has been going on since the dawn of time.

For the record, I didn't associate with cheaters. However, there were so many people who would move golf and pool ballls just a little that it came to be considered part of the rules.

I disagree that most MBA students come from wealthy families. Maybe a little overrepresented, but I think what you're seeing is that people in banks and consulting firms are well-paid and these are jobs people often have before MBA school.

nick said...

Yes, the debate has been going on for a long time and Jesse Livermore was complaining about 'boy bankers' eighty years ago. Despite saying that MBA's might as well be in prison I didn't mean to sound vitriolic, I was just referring to their use to society. Five years ago I asked a professor at one of the best MBA schools what he would do with the new intake of MBA's. He said that he would 'immediately get rid of 80 per cent of them and work with the rest'. So do the math - if only 20 % are worth anything at the better schools, imagine what the rest of smart asses from elsewhere are going to achieve for everyone - ie take a look around. Mind you, if you do that math, you are automatically reducing yourself to the kind of facile calculation that these unimaginative and unrounded MBA's live by.

chandra said...

I agree with what you have to say! thanks for the MBA stats!

Anonymous said...

I am attending a top EMBA program in the US. The narcissists have made the program a virtual hell.

The promises of a wonderful network and friends are empty. A person would be lucky to find a handful of decent people in the group.

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