The recent scandals at Barclays Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other banks might give the impression that the financial sector has some serious morality problems. Unfortunately, it’s worse than that: We are dealing with a drop in ethical standards throughout the business world, and our graduate schools are partly to blame.
Consider, for example, the revelations about two top executives at the elite consulting firm McKinsey & Co., which has avoided public vilification despite the transgressions of its former employees. McKinsey director Anil Kumar, -- a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School -- pleaded guilty to providing insider information to hedge-fund manager and fellow Wharton alumnus Raj Rajaratnam. Rajat Gupta, a graduate of Harvard Business Schoolwho served for nine years as McKinsey’s worldwide managing director, was convicted ofinsider trading in the same case.
Although Gupta had long left McKinsey when the actions leading to his conviction took place, it would be shortsighted not to take the problem seriously. While every firm can have its bad apples, when these bad apples are at the top, it suggests that a company has either a corrupt culture or a defective selection process, or both. This is particularly troubling at a company like McKinsey, which cites the integrity and quality of its consultants as key advantages. “Keep our client information confidential” is one of its credos, proudly displayed on its website.
Where did Gupta, Kumar and others get the idea that this kind of behavior might be OK? Most business schools do offer ethics classes. Yet these classes are generally divided into two categories. Some simply illustrate ethical dilemmas without taking a position on how people are expected to act. It is as if students were presented with the pros and cons of racial segregation, leaving them to decide which side they wanted to take.
Others hide behind the concept of corporate social responsibility, suggesting that social obligations rest on firms, not on individuals. I say “hide” because a firm is nothing but an organized group of individuals. So before we talk about corporate social responsibility, we need to talk about individual social responsibility. If we do not recognize the latter, we cannot talk about the former.
Abstract only. For the full piece by Luigi Zingales please go to: