In a recent Linkedin group discussion, a business school graduate questioned whether we should be discussing the politics of business on the site; rather should we be using the group discussion for issues only regarding business development and networking. I responded that global issues of jobs are the pivotal issues we should be discussing. My response is below.
In March 1989, a federal grand jury indicted one our most infamous Wharton alumni, Michael Milken, on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud. In 1993, after being released from prison for serving time on six counts securities and tax violations and paying $1.1 billion to those he abused, Mr. Milken founded the Prostate Cancer Foundation and then Faster Cures, making a difference in medical research processes. Fortune magazine called him “The Man Who Changed Medicine” in a 2004 cover story on his philanthropy.
Mr. Milken had a second chance to atone for classic Wall Street greed that erupted into criminal activity. Yet, had he not spent time in prison for his misdeeds, would his unethical financial manipulations been acceptable by Wall Street standards? Many in America judged him as the poster child for the problems with business schools; that schools like Wharton send guys like him to Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs without adequately preparing them to deal with the ethics of business.
My class certainly touched on the ethics issue, going as far as to review “Den of Thieves”, an eye opener account of how a few brilliant business school graduates harmed America. While we all gained from courses that increased insights into ethical choices and their global effects on business, if the objective of these courses was to inspire the next generation of Wall Streeters to rise above recent activity that will be recorded by history as “Milken crack steroids”, they did not succeed.
I appreciate mutually beneficial Linkedin connections. However, at this historic fulcrum, when our childrens’ future are being defined by our nation’s business leaders, I have acted on a purpose beyond my personal business goals by starting a blog, www.jobvoucherplan.com to advocate for the unemployed in America. As I write, I sense Wharton grads’ responsibility to help set our country’s path.
Milton Friedman, avowed defender of free markets, said that “the business of business is business”. Our grads, armed with his quotes have been enlisted by investment banks and multinational corporations to transfer capital and jobs offshore. Brandishing his philosophy, our grads chide protectionists stating that America must out innovate others to advance our country. They then use the shield of American property laws to transfer American innovations to offshore subsidiaries, favoring international shareholders without regard for America as a corporate stakeholder.
Michael Porter is now publicly modifying Freidman’s concept with corporate social responsibility, including countries as stakeholders. Recognizing a stark difference in this business theory from Freidman’s, I am raising issues of corporate responsibility regarding country of origin, increased national security definitions of American innovation, reevaluation of property laws regarding intellectual capital, and defining corporations as U.S. citizens with citizen rights, but equally as important, with citizen responsibilities.
Assuming that the Wharton Alumni group is specifically for professional development, networking and career/business building, if discussing these topics helps us develop deliberated beliefs about these historic issues, does it fit the group intent? Even if we take Milton’s distilled view of business as the basis of our overarching context for business, I would say emphatically yes. At a minimum, dismissing these issues as politics, limits our responsibility to examine a greater context for business decisions we make. More importantly, discussing these issues may assist Wharton business leaders to consider business alternatives that create maximum profits for global shareholders while exercising corporate citizen stewardship for America.