We’re introduced to a group of highly impressive MBAs who want to change the world for the better. Among them is Umaimah Mendhro, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia, and went to work for Microsoft after earning her Harvard MBA. She co-founded thedreamfly.org, a non-profit that brings together communities in conflict to co-invest in each other’s success through both business and educational initiatives. Or Kelli Wolf Moles, who had been an investment banker at J.P. Morgan before graduating from HBS and founding Project Spark, a non-profit that promotes sustainable philanthropy.
Their stories help bring flesh and blood to the accompanying survey results. What did the MBAs say? Some rather surprising things: That intellectual challenge is the most important reason for choosing one’s work, significantly more important than the size of a paycheck or a firm’s prestige; that they intend to work in more than four countries within 10 years after graduation, that increased workplace diversity can lead to better business outcomes.
They also discovered a surprisingly high involvement and interest in social enterprise. Some 30% of the responding MBAs to the survey had already worked in the public sector and another 30% in the non-profit sector before getting their degrees. Some 11% of their sample said they had worked in all three sectors. Even more surprising, 39% believe they will have worked in the non-profit sector within ten years of graduation, with 33% predicting they will work in the public sector.
Notwithstanding the common stereotypes of MBAs, 88% of them believe that most business principles can be transferred to the public or non-profit sectors. Some 84% believe it is essential for business leaders to understand the public and non-profit sectors and say there is increasing overlap among the private, public and non-profit sectors of the economy.
“This shouldn’t surprise us,” write the authors. “Our generation has been raised in an era of global privatization of public utilities and in an America where banks and even automakers have been ‘bailed out’ by the federal government. We’ve seen arguably the greatest businessperson of recent decades, Bill Gates, become the world’s most prominent philanthropist, and we’ve seen next-generation businesses, like Google, frame their mission statements in social terms: ‘Don’t be evil.’”
Four out of five of the responding MBAs believe that “this generation views business leadership differently than previous generations.” By and large, they saw more global leaders, more convergence among the sectors, leaders who are “technology natives,” greater emphasis on “collaborative leadership,” and the embrace of diversity.
LESS ABOUT CLIMBING A LADDER, MORE ABOUT ‘DEFINING THE LADDER THROUGH ONE’S ACTIONS.’
One respondent told the authors, “business leaders will be forced to recognize and serve a broader community of stakeholders than in previous generations.” Another MBA believed that “management will no longer be explicitly required to act first and foremost to the financial benefit of shareholders.” Another argued that it is “less about climbing a ladder within an established organization. The 21st century is more about defining the ladder through one’s actions.”
In the end, Coleman and his two buddies have pulled together a book that is less about mainstream MBA thinking than it is a clarion call to a less-traveled, yet potentially more impactful MBA path. As one of their contributors, Umaimah Mendhro, so eloquently puts it, “More and more, I feel, we must define ourselves by who we are, our deeply personal naked self, and what we want to do, rather than by which professional hole the peg fits best. And we must find our way to our vision through our own crooked path, exposing possibilities we never imagined might exist.
“I don’t know where the fullness of my life will take me. If I will become that CEO. If I will win any accolades. If I will die when I’m 40. But I know I want to live a life that gives people reason to reason; to pause and question the comfortable assumptions, to form and inform beliefs, and never give up common sense for common opinion.”