Ethics in Business Oath Capturing Worldwide Attention

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NEW YORK, NY (June 1, 2010) – Max Anderson says the lessons instilled in him while attending an Evangelical Covenant Church and camp laid the moral foundation for him to create the MBA Oath, a document – and most recently a book – that is garnering international attention.

Anderson conceived and helped write the oath during his final year at Harvard Business School in 2009. Signers pledged to live by high ethical standards and promote corporate responsibility. Click here to read more.

The initial group of students hoped that 10 percent of their 800-person class would sign, but 50 percent ultimately added their names. Since then, more than 3,000 students at nearly 300 business schools around the world have signed the oath.

Anderson, who earned a dual master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recently co-authored the book The MBA Oath with Peter Escher, a former fellow student.

“The statement is the way we think things ought to be,” says Anderson. “There’s nothing explicitly Christian about it, but I think it aligns pretty well with God’s call to how we work – to care about the greater good, to do our work with integrity, to be transparent, to be accountable and responsible for our actions.”

Anderson grew up attending Lakewood Covenant Church – now Grace Covenant Church – in Lakewood, Colorado. He spent summers attending family camp and Frontier Ranch at Mission Springs Christian Camp and Conference Center, where his family still has a cabin. (His mother grew up attending Turlock Covenant Church). He also attended CHIC.

“In a deep way I was formed from an early age to live out your faith in every aspect of your life every day,” Anderson says.

Anderson is amazed by how fast and far the oath has spread.

The document garnered international press attention after a story appeared in the New York Times. The article received almost 300 comments and was the second most-read story of that weekend, Anderson says. Other publications that have carried stories include The Washington Post, The Economist, Business Week, and The Guardian.

“I can hardly believe it’s gone worldwide – though it’s still in its infancy,” Anderson says. Whether it grows remains to be seen, but some observers are optimistic.

One of them is Diana C. Robertson, a professor of business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t see this as something that will fade away,” she told the New York Times. “It’s coming from the students. I don’t know that we’ve seen such a surge in this activism since the 1960s. This activism is different, but, like that time, it is student-driven.”

Anderson says business schools need to strongly emphasize ethics. He quotes Theodore Roosevelt, who declared, “To educate a man in the intellect but not in morals is to create a menace to society.”

Many students and graduates have opposed signing the oath, however. Critics have offered differing reasons about why they will not add their names. Some say the oath has no way of being enforced, while others argue that the sole purpose of a business manager is to increase shareholder value.

The pledge idea has been popular enough, however, to lead to the book. Anderson had not intended to write one and only thought about it when McGraw-Hill broached the idea. The company had been looking to publish a book on business ethics that would be marketable.

Anderson and Escher decided to send out proposals to three companies before signing with Portfolio. Asked how sales are doing, Anderson laughs and replies, “We’re behind Freakonomics.”

Anderson adds that he hopes the book will be a perennial seller, with more schools including it as part of their programs. One school already has made the pledge part of its orientation.

Anderson now works at a money management firm, but had considered a career in pastoral ministry before deciding on graduate school. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton, he worked with Campus Crusade for a year, before joining a management consultant firm.

He worked on staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church alongside Pastor Tim Keller for two years and considered someday planting a church. Anderson decided, however, that he was more interested in management, whether in or outside the church.

Anderson and others say they hope the oath will lead to something similar to the Hippocratic Oath. The movement is now being led by a volunteer committee and has formed several partnerships, including one with the Aspen Institute.

Anderson’s parents, Lee and Susan Anderson, attend Ecclesia in Denver, one of the newest Covenant churches.

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