The Business School Way of Life
John Talton’s recent article on britannica.com 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.