Tomorrow’s business leaders should focus more on business ethics and stakeholders instead of concentrating on profit and shareholders

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Tomorrow’s business leaders should focus more on business ethics and stakeholders instead of concentrating on profit and shareholders

MBAs should focus more on business ethics
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Tomorrow’s business leaders should focus more on business ethics and stakeholders instead of concentrating on profit and shareholders, according to new research involving Durham University. During the economic downturn business schools were criticised for producing graduates obsessed with shareholder value and high risk growth strategies.

However according to the findings of the Research & Consultancy Centre at the Association of MBAs, in partnership with Durham University’s Business School, it appears that the era of focusing solely on shareholder value above all else could well be over. When asked whether the MBA should adopt a stakeholder rather than a shareholder focus, almost eight out of 10 (79 per cent) of business schools agreed that to a large or very large extent that this should be the case.

The majority of alumni also agree that the MBA should adopt a stakeholder rather than just a shareholder focus on the bottom-line (59 per cent). In the late 1980s and 1990s, when many of today’s corporate leaders were studying for their MBA, concerns about business ethics and sustainability played little part in the curriculum.

Mirroring the shift for greater transparency and accountability in business today, eight out of 10 (83 per cent) of alumni surveyed agreed that ethics have become important or very important, whilst three-quarters (75 per cent) said that corporate governance is now important or very important. In turn, 80 per cent of business schools agreed to a large or very large extent that corporate social responsibility should underpin the actions of organisations.

When asked how the MBA could better prepare students post-downturn, almost half (46 per cent) of the respondents raised issues relating to sustainability or ethics. However, it appears that schools have taken this point on board as when asked to rate the importance of various topics in today’s economic climate business ethics came top (4.59, where 5 is rated as “very important.”). The research included a total of 100 business schools as well as 544 alumni from 57 countries across the world. In terms of their roles and responsibilities, half of the alumni were senior managers or above, with almost a tenth at CEO/president level.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Rob Dixon, Dean of Durham University’s Business School said: “The economic crisis has shown that we can’t simply expect things to go on as they were. “It’s not just all about profit. Business schools are helping to build a new way of doing business, one that doesn’t put the interests of shareholders above all other stakeholders. “Business needs well rounded executives with strong leadership skills and the ability to integrate ethical, sustainable and stakeholder thinking into their management decisions.”

Other key findings of the research include:

Risk management: Business schools acknowledge that both risk management and strategic risk are two of the top three topics where there is the widest disconnect between what they offer in the current curriculum and what they ought to be offering in the post-downturn world.

A qualification for challenging times: Seven out of 10 (70 per cent) of MBAs agree or strongly agree that their business education helps them to manage change, while six out of 10 (59 per cent) said it prepared them to deal with uncertainty.

Maintaining edge: Business schools appear committed to maintaining the relevance of their MBA programmes. More than nine out of 10 (94 per cent) had undergone a full re-design of their curriculum within the previous five years.

Adds Accreditation Project Manager, Mark Stoddard of the Association of MBAs: “The report provides a clear consensus on the direction the MBA needs to take and will encourage important debate amongst the business school community.

“Schools have been working hard to adapt the MBA to the changing demands of modern business, particularly in terms of developing a greater stakeholder focus for their programmes. “But the economic crisis highlights the need for further change, including a broader, skills-focused and integrated curriculum with more extensive coverage of ethics, risk management and sustainable business practices.“

“Ethics is not definable, is not implementable, because it is not conscious; it involves not only our thinking, but also our feeling.” Valdemar W. Setzer

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