Ethics fuels debate as classes begin

After a summer of corporate scandal headlines, many of the 350 students arriving for fall classes at MIT Sloan expect ethics issues to emerge as a classroom staple across the Charles River campus.

“I doubt that the general MIT Sloan curriculum will change as a result of all the recent negative corporate press, but ethics will undoubtedly be a major discussion topic in all classes,” said Scott Bush, who worked for Bank One Corporation for five years in Chicago and New York before deciding to come to MIT Sloan for his MBA. “Schools need to reemphasize the fact that good people are the foundation to success in business and otherwise.”

And just as professors may be more likely to raise ethical issues, students are clearly interested in learning about them, said Othman Laraki, a native of Morocco who already has a company start-up under his belt.

“MBA students will listen very carefully to avoid joining the ranks of Enron, WorldCom and others,” he said. “It's easy to start condemning CEO's, but the question is how to build a system and company structure that does not drive top management to be dishonest.”

Rather than introduce special new courses, MIT Sloan's approach is to integrate ethical issues throughout its curriculum. As part of its 50th anniversary, the school is going through a total redesign of its MBA curriculum.

Right time for an MBA

Some incoming students saw an upside to earning an MBA during a time of uncertainty on both the corporate and economic fronts.

“The vast majority of companies are not behaving badly,” said Lance Macon, 31, who worked mostly in corporate financing and strategy for eight years before coming to MIT Sloan. “This process of flushing out poorly managed companies will actually turn out to be good for us in the future,” said the Rochester, N.Y., native. “After the next six months to a year, people will have more trust” in major companies such as those looking to hire MIT Sloan MBAs.

Economic conditions and the job market should also be in better shape, added Laraki.

“It is in times like this that the truly successful companies of ten years from now will be founded and the best ideas are less likely to be drowned by the din of entrepreneurial buzz,” he said. “And being in school allows one to take a step back and hopefully gain insights that will allow my classmates and me to push companies to deal with future downturns in a more deliberate manner than we've been witnessing.”

An eye toward new skills

Some MIT Sloan students, such as Lilian N. Almeida of Brazil, hope to sharpen skills in particular management areas.

“I plan to obtain not only the general management skills but also specific expertise to help me elaborate on my business plan to attract investors to work on the express air delivery service in Latin America,” said Almeida, a commercial pilot and entrepreneur who started an air taxi and cargo service in Brazil. “[An MBA from MIT Sloan will also] open doors for me to meet with venture capitalists, aviation specialists, and others.”

Tatiana Peres, another student from Brazil, also looks forward to learning new management tools to bring back home, where she has worked in the media business.

“I hope to leave Sloan with sufficient knowledge to have a chance to change some of the management procedures of media companies of my country,” she said. “My priority is to learn all the basic tools to become a good manager, but I also look forward to all the different things the school offers, from salsa dancing and wine tasting to languages.”

Many students choose MIT Sloan because of its link to MIT.

“The technical orientation of MIT as a whole makes it an ideal place to learn how technology companies are built and led,” said Othman. “I hope to acquire a strong financial background at Sloan,” he said. “I also hope to get insights into the direction of technology over the next ten or 20 years, and MIT's research labs seem to be several decades ahead of planet earth.”

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MIT Sloan Professor Emeritus Jay Forrester invented the field of system dynamics and is still a major force in its development.