Expert Comment

Mandate morality and ethics study

The scam in the Hyderabad-based Satyam Computer Services which has imploded this 2 billion dollar company and stained the reputation of Indian industry as a whole, has brought corruption — the blindspot of India’s estimated 1,500 business management schools — into sharp focus. The prime objective of B-school education is to impart land, labour and capital management knowledge and skills salted with entrepreneurial capability, to make students productive in various specialisations required by society for material progress. The other important but usually ignored component of business management or any other education, is character building and ‘man-making’ to develop graduates entering industry and the professions into honest, upright and cultured citizens, working to build prosperity and harmony in society.

Unfortunately not even 1 percent of study time in Indian B-schools is devoted to this vital component. Historically, values-education has been connected with religious faiths and beliefs and was excluded from post-independence India’s secular education system. But mere preaching and prayer cannot trans-form people into ethical, values-conscious citizens. Over 100 million Hindus visit temples every day and listen to learned discourses on ethics. Despite this, according to Geneva-based NGO Transparency Inter-national, India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In Denmark and other Nordic countries, people rarely go to church, yet they are ranked among the least corrupt. This is because moral and ethical values are built into their education systems and translate into managerial and administrative systems characterised by transactional transparency.

Currently B-school syllabuses are drawn from the social sciences — politics, economics, sociology, psychology, law, logic, statistics, information technology and productivity studies. There is urgent need to add ethics, morals, values, philosophy, yoga, meditation, theories of karma-dharma, laws of cause-effect, compassion towards animals, and respect for nature’s endowments, to B-school curriculums, because these principles are rational, logical, scientific, fair and humanistic, and indeed independent of orthodox religious creeds.

In essence, the science of business or enterprise management is a by-product and instrument of the capitalist system, in which the prime motivation of work is self-interest. Yet resources management is an all-pervasive activity which governs transactions and relationships between man-animal-nature. For sustaining life on the planet and building harmonious human relationships, values such as selflessness, service, sacrifice, concern for other living species, cooperation, compromise, culture, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, etc need to be consciously aroused to negate conflict, envy, greed, jealousy, hatred, cheating, ego-centricity, arrogance, lust.

Regretably, the unethical base of formal and informal business management education is responsible for most of the ills and disasters of society. Too great an emphasis on the utilitarian component of business education has resulted in violence and vulgarity in cinema and television which routinely use women to promote consumer and even capital goods. Moreover corporate managers entice and induce people to buy products they don’t want, to borrow beyond their means to finance wasteful consumption, display women to sell goods and services, and profit from the indebtedness and dissatisfaction of consumers.

On the other hand, in balanced and well-developed societies shaped by values-driven education systems, a business or organisation manager’s authority and leadership flows from selfless service and conduct. In Sai and Amrita ashrams and Christian missionary schools and colleges, thousands of people work, driven by sentiments of altruism and compassion, rather than fees and compensation, as students are taught to demand in this country’s B-schools.

In his lifetime Mahatma Gandhi showed that one can live ethically and achieve greatness. By living abstemiously, he acquired enormous inner strength and popular support to force the sun to set on the mighty British empire. In contrast, the country’s most successful businessmen live highly ostentatious lives and unlike Gandhiji, who fasted before taking major decisions, India Inc managers make important decisions over extravagant wining and dining. “The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice,” warned the Mahatma whose life was his message.

Following the recent corporate scams and scandals in America and the West, B-schools abroad have begun to include the study of morality and ethics in their curriculums. But our 1,500 B-schools are yet to follow suit. The Satyam scandal which has rocked India Inc highlights the imperative to harness India’s rich legacy of ethics, morals, values, philosophy, yoga, and meditation in business education.

(Prof. N.S. Ramaswamy is the former founder director of IIM-B, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, and NITIE, Mumbai)