Business School Way of Life…Revisited

My previous post from Saturday generated the most feedback of any of my posts so far.  I received tons of emails from some people who agreed and others who thought I was full of it.  I’ll try to clarify and expand further with this post.

I don’t think its wrong to be rich or wrong to want to get rich.  Where it becomes a problem is when the main or only goal is to get rich.  In situations like this, people cut corners and look the other way to make a quick buck.  They do not do the right thing or build for the long term.  As my friend Joe, an Indiana business school grad said, “its becomes poker to them.”  As in all get rich quick schemes, at some point, someone ends up holding the bag.
My problem with the Business School Way of Life is that, for many, the main and only goal is to get rich.  Getting rich should be the byproduct of doing something that is useful and that you like to do.  If you create something worthwhile that people want, odds are, society will compensate you for your efforts.  
Business school is not the only area of the American economy that is prone to this disease.  During the tech boom, people started companies with the express goal of getting rich, rather than building a useful product.  In the end, the bubble burst and the people who were in it solely for the money ended up failing.  Athletes who are in it only for the money don’t seem to do as well as those who love the game.  Construction workers who cut corners to make a quick buck fall victim to the same disease. 
At least in previous bubbles, the people who tried to “get rich quick” left behind lasting infrastructure.  The railroad tycoons connected America.  Oil barons found new resources to lead the world into the automobile age.  The fiber optics companies paved the way for the Internet.  What has the finance industries’ boom and bust left us with?
My previous post was more a critique of American culture as a whole, using the business school way of life as a lens to focus on the problem.  It seems to me that many people my age now expect to love their jobs AND get rich without putting in full effort.  It seems to me that people in previous generations expected to have to grind away in jobs that they did not necessarily love in order to succeed.  I am not suggesting that everyone should go to work in a big company and grind away in corporate America.  On the contrary, I think it would be great if more people took the risk of joining smaller companies out of college or even started their own.  This way, they would be more focused on building something lasting, rather than “playing poker” with other people’s money.
I may have been too harsh on business schools and the people who attend them, but I truly believe that the world would be a better place if more people decided to go into other, more productive careers.  If more people would stop trying to get rich quick and instead tried to build something new and interesting, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess that we are in now.  I think that if current college students and recent grads got back to the basics of trying to solve problems and build interesting and worthwhile things, they, along with us, would be better off.

The Business School Way of Life

John Talton’s recent article on called “Business Schools & Financial Services: Oh The Harm They’ve Caused” is a great article on a subject that I have been meaning to write about for awhile now.  Talton’s main premise is that:

…for a generation or more…so many of our brightest college graduates have gone to Wall Street to get rich, rather than creating something useful or beautiful, rather than helping to strengthen and reinvent industries that actually produce something. Those with less talent, connections or family money have mimicked them, choosing to work in “financial services.”

Tellingly, they are enrolled in highly publicized “ethics” courses. And year after year, the top graduates go into finance. Most graduates move into settings where they continue their socialization into being an unquestioning cog in the matrix. The motivation is at once banal and uniform: I’ve talked to many classes where students say their main goal in life is to “get rich.”

As a Poli Sci major who started and ran businesses while in college, I became disillusioned with many of the students who took their classes in Grainger Hall and the courses that they were enrolled in.  By Sophomore year, it was clear to me that many, if not most, of these students were on the “get rich quick” plan and had no interest in building anything interesting or worthwhile.  They wanted to become cogs in investment banks or work in financial services.
Their goals were so completely different from mine, as were their values.  They valued name over actions and flair over substance.  They viewed business school as the next step to bonus millions, rather than a place to learn how to actually do something.  To be clear, not everyone who I met in the business school fits into this category.  I can think of many counter examples of smart people who were genuinely interested in the inner workings of finance, real estate or accounting but in my experience, the vast majority fit into the “get rich quick” group.
Michael Lewis’ great article from the December edition of Portfolio called “The End of Wall Street” visits many of the same themes.  He is hopeful that with the recent downturn, many of these smart people will be dispersed into other, more productive industries.
I wholeheartedly agree.  The best thing that could happen during this recession would be for the extremely smart people currently working in finance to move into other industries.  Imagine if these smart people were unleashed to tackle other problems like the future of the auto industry, green technology, education or any other huge problem.  I know many will take those last few sentence as sarcasm since these same people had their hands in the financial meltdown, but I am hopeful that they might be more successful in other industries.
It would be great if the best and the brightest college students just entering college now eschewed not only the business school, but what I’ll call “the business school way of life” and learned common sense life lessons.  Instead of doing “finance” they learned history and politics and how the world actually works.  These smart people would be poised to lead America’s next generation of companies that actually create, invent and innovate, rather than just move money around.  I believe that America, not to mention the world as a whole, would be much better off if these changes occur.

The Audacity of Dope

I shamelessly pulled this headline from The Smoking Gun because I couldn’t do any better. Apparently drug dealers in New York were selling Obama brand Heroin. Other brands were “bin Laden heroin,” “Harry Potter Ecstasy,” and “green tinted crack for St. Patrick’s Day.”

Like I said in my previous post, its too bad that these guys’ creativity isn’t being put to better use. Imagine what they could do with a 30 second spot for the Superbowl…

How Much Does A Hustler Make?

Sudhir Venkatesh’s book Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor will tell you the answer.

I just finished reading it this week and while it wasn’t as engaging as his previous Gang Leader for a Day, it was informative. It profiles how “hustling” is a necessary part of life for many in the urban poor. He spent over 10 years “hanging out” on the South side of Chicago and got to know many of the people who lived there. He takes the experiences of prostitutes, drug dealers, ministers, auto mechanics, the homeless and petty thieves and weaves an interesting tale of how marginalized people use their entrepreneurial skill to survive.

While it can be dry and times, and Venkatesh seems to repeat himself in some of the chapters, the book is worth reading. If you haven’t read Gang Leader for a Day, I would suggest reading it first, as its a much better intro into Venkatesh’s work than Off the Books.

You have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit that many of people in the book display. The traits that many of the “hustlers” have are the exact traits that many startups are looking for: innovation, willingness to change business models quickly and operating without significant cash. It would be great if there were a way to harness their willingness to take risks and come up with solutions on the fly in other, more productive ways that would allow the marginalized hustlers to live a better life.