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A Kinder, More Ethical MBA?

A Kinder, More Ethical MBA?

Do you have a strong aptitude for leadership and organization, but wince at the idea of going into business, because you fear abandoning your values? Don't want your family to see you on CNN, being taken in for insider trading? While business transgressions may make the headlines, there are also scores of positions for ethical businesspeople and a growing number of MBA programs that cater to them.

The Cleanest and Greenest

Tim Fort has been adding to the pool of responsible businesspeople through his research and teaching at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, where he is an associate professor of business ethics and business law.

University of Michigan's MBA program has long emphasized business ethics and social and environmental responsibility. Business ethics means conducting a business fairly, and environmental impact studies measure the effects of human activities -- including commerce -- on the earth. Michigan offers a three-year, dual-degree program through the business school and the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Graduates come out with "a very strong grounding in science and are equipped with the managerial skill to be able to integrate that science within their company to be much more environmentally conscious," Fort says.

Another focus, which Fort says "grows out of both the ethics and environmental issues," is social responsibility, or the ramification of business practices on societies. University of Michigan MBA students are exposed to courses, panel discussions, research opportunities, lectures and student clubs concerned with these issues.

Bringing Up Socially Responsible Leaders

The University of Michigan isn't alone on the high ground. A study called "Beyond Grey Pinstripes" highlights several schools that have established or are developing programs to prepare socially and environmentally responsible business leaders. Included are schools with specialized degrees, those that weave responsible business practices throughout a traditional MBA program and some with progressive electives.

Outside class, many faculty members research business ethics and social responsibility. One of Fort's research projects, for example, proposes to answer the question, "Is there anything that business activities have to do with more sustainable peace around the world?" Since the September 11 attacks, his work has increased in urgency, and plans include a program in partnership with the World Bank to disseminate research findings, work with the United Nations, a book and two conferences.

Obviously, students have much to gain from this research activity. Fort reports that his work has dramatically influenced his international business courses. Students will participate in the World Bank project through an Internet-mediated course that will disseminate the research worldwide. "Students will be working with me [and] learning with me how people around the world are reacting to this kind of research," Fort says. "I have hopes down the line that we'll develop a course based on this particular area of business and peace."

Incentives in Nonprofit Work

Some schools, Michigan included, understand that choosing a career in public service isn't always the most lucrative option. As highlighted in "Beyond Grey Pinstripes," these schools are easing the financial burden with the following offers:

  • Loan Forgiveness Programs: Schools such as Yale offer programs that lessen the burden of loans for qualifying students who take lower-paying public service positions after graduation.

  • Supplementary Income Programs: Harvard, Columbia and many other business schools have programs that supplement the income of qualifying students who choose internships with not-for-profit organizations.

Work Styles of the Clean and Ethical

Graduates of these MBA programs can work in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Fort notes a drive from the general business community to hire MBA graduates with knowledge of responsible management issues. That focus can only increase, he says, given the events that have eroded the public's confidence in business leaders. As the world's business communities become increasingly interrelated and the need for sustainable resource management becomes more urgent, demand for responsible and ethical business leaders will only increase.

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