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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Strategic CSR - Business schools

Over the winter break, I started reading the book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands by Rakesh Khurana. The main message is that business schools have not lived up to the intentions behind their creation. That, rather than build a platform to train managers as professionals (in the true meaning of that term), they have instead morphed into money machines for universities, where revenue generation trumps their educational mission. This message was reinforced by the article in the url below, which is a review of the book The Golden Passport published last year by Duff McDonald. The critique offered by the book (and summarized in the review) is damning:
"Anthropologists in the distant future will make their careers investigating the extraordinary rituals of American business education. As they sift through the wreckage of a civilization that bestowed its highest rewards on individuals trained to ignore its deepest problems, they will be lucky to have as their guidebook Duff McDonald's deliciously iconoclastic history of the Harvard Business School, 'The Golden Passport.'"
The overall message is that business schools have played a large part in producing the managers who have shaped the economy into something that serves the interests of the minority at the expense of the majority. Although HBS is not the only problem, the institution is singled out for particular disdain. Michael Jensen earns particular criticism for his role in propagating the diffusion of agency theory throughout business schools. Michael Porter is also heavily criticized for creating a problem that he then magnanimously offered to help solve (for a price, of course):
"The Monitor Group, the consulting company Mr. porter co-founded, raked in over $100 million from AT&T in the early 1990s—just as the old phone company, flailing around in search of new sources of monopolistic advantage, launched a series of strategic acquisitions that landed it in a ditch. Starting in 2006, Monitor put its expertise in the service of a certain terrorist-sponsoring dictator in Libya. … The strategic foray into the tin-pot sector—which included contracts with the Assads in Syria, as well as the Russians and Saudis—did not keep the consulting firm from bankruptcy. Now, according to the author, Mr. Porter seems convinced his management magic will solve the problems of health care and education. Apparently all we need to get our schools and insurance companies back on track is a little 'strategy.'"
While the critique is good, there is not much offered by the book in terms of possible alternatives. The absence in the review of plausible ways forward is palpable. This applies to the general direction of business school education. I agree with the criticism, but haven't seen an accurate description of why previous models were 'wrong' (e.g., shareholders do not own the firm), or what should be taught in its place (e.g., sustainable value creation). In other words, the discussion around the book (and I read several reviews of it) is not very enlightening and further entrenches an 'unhelpful' view of the role of the firm in society.
I think the principles advocated in Strategic CSR are an important part of that discussion. Complementing these ideas is the work that all of you are doing in your classrooms every day to build a 'better' alternative. How to get HBS (or any other influential actor) to pay attention, though? That is the essential question.
Take care
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Schools of Mismanagement
By Matthew Stewart
April 22-23, 2017
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final