Two concerns about the oath are that there is no sanction for those who break the pledge and that some of the commitments – to the environment for example – have left-leaning tendencies. Peter Escher, one of the founders of the oath at Harvard, defends the wording. “This was not intended to be a political oath. The environment has a legitimate claim on any organisation,” he says.
To try to kickstart discussions around ethics and sustainability, Angel Cabrera, president of Thunderbird in Arizona, instigated the concept of an oath at the school in 2005. Prof Cabrera describes himself as an “activist” in the MBA oath field and with Harvard’s Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohria – Prof Nohria will be Harvard’s next dean – was instrumental in developing the oath project.
“We need to treat management as a profession. This is one way, but only one way, to do this. It’s not a panacea or complete solution.” He sees it as having real value within the business school community. “It changes the conversation. It puts pressure on us to rethink the curriculum.” Otherwise, he says, “You can go through an entire MBA programme without being told that corruption or bribing is not acceptable.”
Prof Cabrera argues that managers who sign the oath will still be fallible. “It does not mean these people are going out to get a 100 per cent score.” Mr Cooper agrees. “I think a lot of people see the oath as something in black and white. For me it is a set of principles to work towards.”