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Environment Top Priority, Say MBAs

Current MBA students rank environmental protection as the biggest societal challenge in which businesses today should be involved, according to a new global study. The survey results were presented in Paris on Friday (November 16) at the first forum hosted by the Council on Business & Society which is a consortium of global business schools that came together in 2011 to rally around ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility issues.

The international graduate student survey was conducted this spring and captured the opinions of approximately 300 MBA students from the Council’s six participating schools: Tuck School of Business, ESSEC Business School, Keio Business School, Fudan University School of Management, University of Manheim Business School, and Fundacao Getulio Vargas – EAE Sao Paulo.

Eight questions were asked in an attempt to probe students’ views about the responsibilities of corporations to society plus their thoughts on corporate governance topics. Survey questions asked students their opinions on such topics as the major responsibilities of companies in today’s world, the influence of shareholders on the selection of corporate boards, and key attributes of a successful CEO.

MBAS IDENTIFY TWO KEY PRIORITIES FOR CEOS: FINANCIAL SUCCESS AND ETHICAL BEHAVIOR

While students say environmental protection should be a top priority for businesses, a focus on the environmental impacts of organizational performance ranked low on the list of key CEO attributes. Topping the list was financial and commercial success followed by ethical behavior (number two) and having a strategic view of the business (number three).

Students from the various regions also concur that maximizing shareholder value is the primary responsibility of companies and that government legislation is needed to ensure a balance between business interests and society.

Where the participants varied in their responses revealed the diverse cultural backgrounds represented by the survey sample. When asked what factor is most important in an ideal job, opportunities for professional development was ranked first by American students while the potential to make a contribution to society was most important to Asian students.

MBAS FROM DIFFERENT REGIONS OF THE WORLD DIFFERED IN THEIR VIEWS ON GOVERNANCE

Similarly, when given a list of groups that should have the most influence on CEO decisions, participants agreed the board of directors should have the most say. After the board, however, MBA students in Europe and U.S. thought company management should be the most influential while students in Asia felt customers should exceed company management in their level of influence.

“Some of the regional differences are clearly differences between individualistic versus collectivist cultures,” says Patricia Palmiotto who is the survey organizer and Executive Director of Tuck’s Center for Business & Society.

Xiongwen Lu, dean of Fudan’s School of Management expressed similar thoughts when asked his reaction to the results of the survey and the outcome of the Council on Business & Society’s first forum. “We’re all here to exchange ideas because it is everyone’s intention to incorporate corporate governance into what we do at our respective business schools. We have different experiences and cultural governance, but we follow some general shared values about the need for corporate governance in business today.”

So what does it all mean for the MBA classroom? Palmiotto says the findings encourage business schools, faculty, and companies to continue asking MBA students what they think. “Most graduate students are adults so they’ve lived and had responsibilities. It’s a part of their value system to recognize that in order for a corporation to be successful, it can’t be done without thinking about ethical behavior, without looking at issues of decreasing natural resources, without looking at the fact that your employees have lives. With surveys like this, we can take this information and use it to help students grow into successful future leaders.”