Friday, January 13, 2012

Ethics: A trivial concept or the hidden dragon?

The issue of ethics never came to mind before I heard a batch-mate of my management class opine about the new course on ethics floated in our B-school. The incident happened over a cup of tea near the tea-stall, an uncontested hangout place in our campus. His opinion belittled the course, terming it trivial and unnecessary although useful in easily fulfillment of credit requirements for the MBA. This opinion was shared by others who had enrolled for the course. I really don’t know whether this sentiment was shared by most MBA grads or was it an isolated case. The quality of faculty taking the course is unquestionably brilliant. This opinion may be due to two following disjoint reasons.
1. Either the moral values imparted by the family system was so great that ethical issues were ingrained into the DNA
2. Or, Unethical behavior was acceptable, an undeniable aspect of doing business.

I may not be able to understand both but recent events such as the case of Rajat Gupta, A Harvard Alum, who was the head of McKinsey Global for a good nine years and co-founded ISB Hyderabad (A top Indian B-school) was jailed in an insider trading scam involving the now tainted Galleon (world’s largest hedge fund management firm). Looking at the nature of Indian culture, Ethics no doubt is an uncomplicated issue bordering on triviality. But as the returns to un-ethical behavior increase with respect to the costs such as a poor regulatory environment, an issue that does not seem big becomes a major question in the mind of an actor struggling between high returns coming from unethical behavior and a lower return from an ethical behavior. A B-school student may not give importance to ethics because his or her priority is to climb up the corporate ladder and grab the most important job such as that of a CEO in a company or start a successful money making venture. It is when they reach this stage; the true nature of ethics comes in play. While unethical behavior might have the potential to give returns beyond imagination, resisting it is an art that needs to be taught. By nature, a B-school student is ambitious competing among a herd of a zillion aspirants. The link between ambition and greed is controlled by resistance to unethical behavior. With top corporates, ambition is very high. Only the resistance to unethical can control it from reaching greed.