Who’d have thought MBAs have a conscience? Bankers with fancy degrees were a convenient scapegoat for the economic meltdown of 2008-09, but a business degree is about a lot more than futures and derivatives. A new crop of graduates is determined to make the world a better place.

MBAs had their moment in the spotlight during the recent recession as bankers with fancy degrees were vilified in the media. Business schools around the globe turned the microscope inward, searching their souls for signs of culpability.

Here in B.C., the nine universities offering MBA degrees emerged stronger than ever, each bolstering its commitment to building a healthy business community.

UBC sent students to Kenya, where members of the class of 2010 helped villagers get small businesses up and running. At UVic, where sustainability is woven throughout the curriculum, students travelled to Brazil to help a local company bring the acai berry to international markets.

Other schools turned their focus closer to home: one Trinity Western student, for example, plans to apply his new-found management expertise to local not-for-profit social-service agencies. And business schools across the province tackled the crisis of conscience head-on, fostering classroom debates on the role of ethics in business and spurring students to put their business smarts to good use.
You’ll find the latest updates on these and other developments in B.C. MBA programs in this 2010 BCBusiness MBA guide, along with our at-a-glance summary of MBA options in B.C.

All for one: Teamwork is a pyramid, says Ron Sitter, starting with communication, moving through commitment and ending in trust.

Putting the “Us” in Business

An MBA boils down to one core skill: teamwork

Works well with others: that’s often the strongest selling point on a resumé, since teamwork is indispensable in an office setting. Even though it’s been drilled into us since preschool, some of us still need a little work on our team skills. That’s why it’s an integral part of most MBA programs.

We hear the teamwork mantra repeated so often that it’s easy to lose sight of what it even means. At Vancouver Island University, instructor Ron Sitter begins with definitions. Traditionally, he says, it means “two or more people working together with a common goal who are mutually accountable to each other.” But he prefers another definition: “understanding that we need each other, that we can’t do it alone as well as we can do it with all of us, that none of us is as smart as all of us.”

Sitter also tells students that teamwork can viewed as a pyramid. At the foundation are purpose, process and communication. Once those are mastered, you can proceed to the next level, which includes involvement and commitment. “If you can achieve those, at the very highest level you end up with this fuzzy thing called trust,” Sitter explains.

Understanding what it means is one thing; to put it into practice, UNBC MBA students start the program with a retreat. Han Donker, chair of UNBC’s School of Business explains that during the first week, students have to work in teams to solve cases.

At Vancouver Island University, Sitter says, the hands-on component of teamwork includes a one-day session where he spends just 40 minutes in front of the class, then “the rest of the time they’re in their little work groups, hammering out the different concepts.”

Ideally, any business can be viewed as a team working toward a common goal. So it stands to reason that the best outcome of any MBA program is graduates who work well with others.

Right and Wrong: If you haven’t learned the difference by adulthood, an MBA isn’t going to teach it, says Mark Wexler.

Blame it on MBAs

Schools examine the role of ethics in business

Many blamed the economic meltdown of 2008-09 on MBA programs that spawned a generation of greedy CEOs, but is ethics something you can teach?
Mark Wexler, professor of business ethics and management at SFU’s Segal Graduate School of Business doesn’t think so. Wexler tends to teach people in their 30s and 40s and believes their ethical standpoint is already well formed by that time. Even by the time younger students start their MBAs, they likely have already formed their own opinions and ethical footing. So while you can teach students about ethics, you can’t teach them to be ethical; that’s up to the individual. So what are schools doing to ensure that their students at least have an understanding of what it means to be ethical in the business world?

Royal Roads University was in the process of redesigning its curriculum when the financial crisis hit, and according to Steven Glover, associate professor in the faculty of management, it was a perfect time to re-evaluate the university’s stance on ethics. “One of the things we’re trying to do with the redesign is emphasize three different threads, and those are a strategic, leadership and responsibility focus. The ethical question really goes to all of those areas and is intended to be woven throughout the program and the courses,” says Glover.

Wexler offers a course bearing the title Business Ethics, and he was teaching these concepts to technology students, undergraduates and executive MBAs long before the financial crisis hit. When asked if SFU has added any ethics courses recently, Wexler responded that it has added some since he’s been there but not in response to the recent global economic recession: “When I first started teaching, there were none; now there are five or six. Every program has one, and they’re required.”
Whether ethics courses were already in place or whether the curriculum is being redesigned, the question still remains: how do you teach ethics? Both Glover and Wexler agree there are two ways ethics can be taught. One is to teach it in a dedicated course, like Wexler’s. In that instance, ethics is all the class talks about; they look at everything in the context of an ethical framework. The other option, which Royal Roads has chosen, is to try and include ethics discussions within the material in different courses. That places marketing or finance, for example, within an ethical framework.

Whether either of these approaches will ward off future Bernie Madoffs is open to debate. But even if these programs don’t instill a higher moral sense in students, at least they’ll know if they’re doing wrong.