Explains My Dislike of People’s Obsession of Finance

I totally agree with this article. Great minds think alike – hedge funds and private equity aren’t everything. If you look at the background of the top CEOs, they all have experience of operations management.

Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Sep 26, 2007.

BUSINESS-SCHOOL professors are masters at critiquing everyone else’s work. They pick apart Microsoft Corp.‘s strategy; they rebuke Enron– era companies for ethics breakdowns. They are so busy gazing outward that it’s unthinkable for them to rip into their own institutions.

Now Rakesh Khurana, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, is about to break that taboo.

Next month, Prof. Khurana is publishing a critique of business schools’ evolution over the past 50 years. His book, “From Higher Aims to Hired Hands,” argues that famous B-schools, including Harvard, have lost track of their original mission to produce far-sighted leaders who can help the economy run better.

As Prof. Khurana sees it, M.B.A. training has deteriorated into a race to steer students into high-paying finance and consulting jobs without caring about the graduates’ broader roles in society. “The logic of stewardship has disappeared,” he says. Panoramic, long-term thinking has given way to an almost grotesque obsession with maximizing shareholder value over increasingly brief spans.

As a result, he declares, getting an advanced degree in business no longer amounts to entry into a full-fledged profession, like law or medicine. It’s just a badge that lets graduates latch onto situations where they can jostle the actual managers of companies and make a lot of money for themselves in the process.

If Prof. Khurana wanted to torment business-school deans, alumni and current students, he couldn’t have picked a better way. For years, the B-school community has taken great pride in repeatedly redefining its mission as job markets change. It stings to be told by anyone — let alone a fellow insider — that many of these adjustments should be a source of shame, not pride.

At the University of Michigan‘s Ross School of Business, for example, swarms of graduates once headed for jobs in the car industry. Today, with auto companies locked in an unending struggle to get costs under control, that figure has sunk to just 1.5%. That doesn’t worry Dean Robert Dolan; his school now sends 66% of graduates into service- sector jobs, with consulting and finance leading the way.

At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, almost half the 800 first-year students attend career chats about what it would be like to work for hedge funds or private-equity firms. Four years ago, such formal briefings didn’t exist. But booming interest in those sectors has led the school to help students prepare for possible jobs in those areas, says Michelle Antonio, Wharton’s director of M.B.A. career management.

IF BUSINESS SCHOOLS were simply trying to help students find the fastest path to riches, they should do nothing but point students toward various areas of high-octane investing. A Harvard Business School survey last year found that private-equity shops offered graduates the best pay packages of any field — a median salary of $125,000, with bonuses of more than $90,000.

That’s just the beginning. Forbes magazine’s latest list of the 400 richest Americans includes 45 newcomers this year, with 20 of them coming from the hedge-fund and private-equity communities. By contrast, high tech and traditional manufacturing are good for just two apiece. (The new industrialists hardly evoke comparisons to Andrew Carnegie; they made their money in pesticides and nondairy creamer.)

At least some business schools are uneasy about how much they want to coddle up to private-equity firms and hedge funds. Those firms’ current allure may just be another reminder of how exciting Wall Street can look at the top of a cycle, says Rebecca Joffrey, associate director of career development at Dartmouth’s Tuck School.

SHE HAS BEEN encouraging traditional industrial firms to keep sending recruiters to Tuck, even though financial firms’ pull these days is unusually strong. If capital markets slump, she explains, companies such as Cargill and PepsiCo will still be hiring when the hedge funds and private-equity firms are likely to be scaling back.

For his part, Prof. Khurana would like to see business schools take much more aggressive steps to mend their ways. He is impressed by the ways that law and medical schools certify graduates’ knowledge and require lifelong continuing education. Perhaps business schools should do something similar, he suggests.

Prof. Khurana also would like it if company managers regained some of their old authority, being able to build lasting value on dimensions that went beyond this week’s stock price. He may be too nostalgic here. All-powerful bosses didn’t always make wise decisions.

Yet Prof. Khurana has identified an important imbalance. In the current environment, many brilliant young M.B.A.s don’t aspire to be corporate chief executive officers, who struggle to uphold their agendas against pressure from all sides. These students would rather be consultants who earn big money fomenting change. Better yet, they want to be the powerful investors who hire and fire CEOs.

Until those dynamics change, it will be hard for top business schools to resume their traditional — and vital — role as training grounds for the next generation of corporate leaders.

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