During the first class of a core strategy course the professor briefly mentioned that the first step to a great strategy is providing value to society.  This framing of business purpose as providing value to society was not one often heard throughout the core coursework of my MBA program, but one that is found in nearly every book about sustainable enterprise.  So I wrote him an email asking if we would talk more about that idea throughout the rest of the course.  He kindly wrote back to say not specifically.


6 weeks later, right before the course was over- I wrote this email:
I have tried to honor the email that you sent me at the beginning of the term about how we will not be discussing societal connections and consequences of ideas covered in the core class, but it has not been easy.  I know that time is the limiting resource in our class and that discussion must be focused and diverse but I can’t help but ask that we revisit the topic once more.  Below is the background on why I think this is important and a suggestion for a possible solution.


The Dean of our B-School  just said this in a message to the student body today:
“The idea that business does not exist in a vacuum is central to what we do here. We embrace the fact that business unfolds in the wider world of human concerns and institutions. Our School’s commitment to the social dimensions of business is visible in both our curriculum and our culture as evident by the enduring strength of our Net Impact chapter, by the School’s approach to leadership development, and by our MBA program’s consistently high showing in rankings such as the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes (in which we are currently ranked #2 in the world and #1 in the U.S.)



It seems that the Dean of our school joins many in the argument against Grant’s thinking of the corporation as simply shareholder property and not a social entity as found on Pg 34 of the textbook for class.  I understand the purpose of the core course is to introduce simple strategy concepts covered in our competitor schools, but I worry that without a bridge to acknowledge the real world complexity added from social and environmental impacts many of the students in this class may not know to take the electives that would prepare them for decision making with these factors in mind.  I also worry that we are teaching to a definition of the corporation that may have been salient in the past but less accepted now, especially as transparency of management increases and social and environmental problems worsen. (I was clearly feeling bold on that last bit.)


I would like to write something to expand on the conversation of a couple of the cases we’ve discussed in class and post it in the online discussion section for our class.  The objective of anything that I write would be to highlight added dimensions of complexity that real world business leaders are facing and offer an introduction to additional classes offered at Ross that would unpack that complexity more.”


Not only did he let me prepare something to post in the online discussion: he let me present it to the class of 50+ part-time MBAs for 15 minutes as a lead in to lunch.  I scraped something together in a flash and did a presentation, from which I learned a great deal.  It was far from perfect (embarrassed by the emphasis I put on what business “ought to do” vs. what business “gets to do”) but I think I was able to get people thinking differently, if only for a bit.  During the break after my “presentation,” Many of my classmates expressed gratitude for the introduction and said they would not have otherwise known about the concepts and other classes.  I expressed gratitude to my professor for the opportunity to present.


Who knows what happened after that, but If there is one thing I’ve learned for certain:  saying something increases the odds of change exponentially if the other choice is remaining silent.