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U.S. Business Schools Must Share the Blame

January 05, 2003

Re "How Can Corporate Ethics Fail? Gradually," Dec. 29:

Applying the well-known thought that we don't lose our liberties all at once, but rather one decision at a time, I agree with Jone L. Pearce that corporate ethics have eroded gradually. But the dean's article is a glaring example of why business schools share as much fault for any corporate ethical failure as do the executives involved.

Pearce's stated position as a business school instructor and leader is that the faculty is most useful when observing and trying to understand what has happened. In today's business world, Pearce and faculty are already too late, much too late. My impression was that teachers were to teach students to succeed in the future. As they say in the real business world, there are those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happened.

Instead of focusing theory on a relatively few greed-oriented ivory-tower executives, Pearce might realize that recent corporate failings have more to do with trying to please the short-term interests of Wall Street and 24-hour news commentators than serving consumers' long-term interests. Real business leaders do the right thing, hold to their ideas and take risks when everyone says they are wrong. Real business leaders don't wait for the polls to tell them what to do; they listen to their customers.

Business schools teach "corporate" models, theoretical exercises in mediocrity that, in the great majority of cases, have no real application in the business world. They teach "corporate speak" when most business owners succeed with street sense. Education does not equal leadership -- performance does.

Pearce focuses on mostly mythical scenarios. Do your co-workers pocket profits at customers' expense? Are you asked to do things you couldn't tell your mom? Are you a Boy Scout? I would guess that Pearce has been creating UC Irvine Grad School course agendas from newspaper headlines and Ben Affleck movies. The vast majority of businesses -- corporate or sole proprietorships -- operate ethically and morally. A few bad apples don't equal the whole bunch.

To teach today's business school students that corporate America is, at its foundation, unethical is to guarantee tomorrow's failures.

Pearce, and other business school leaders, would do their charges well to focus on the foundation of business -- innovation, hard work, a service mentality, humility and self-discipline. Speaking in theory and jargon doesn't bring home the bacon. Trying to please Wall Street and not your customers is a recipe for failure. Relying on others' opinions instead of your gut results in many a shuttered business. As my dad has said so many times, a camel is a horse built by committee.

Dennis Schroeder

Lake Forest

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