“Management Is Not a Profession”: Can the Oath of Honor Make It One?

By Jorge Céspedes, Guest Writer

What do Enron, Arthur Andersen, British Petroleum, and, recently, Volkswagen have in common? For those who are knowledgeable about big corporation scandals, this is just a set of companies that have generated billionaire losses throughout the world during the last two decades due to their unethical behavior. And we can add other respected names to this short list such as Bayer, Siemens, Ford, Parmalat, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, and so on.

Board of Ddirectors ImageThere is nothing new about that. That is why almost the entire world is so adverse to business people. I can hear one of my best friends in life, a respected artist in Peru saying, “Business people are greedy, dishonest, arrogant, cynical, obsessive, miserly, Machiavellian. But guess what! They have the best education in the world!”

Perhaps that explains why Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor at Stanford Business School, wrote an article titled “Management a profession? Where’s the proof?” in HBR September 2011, and professor Henry Mintzberg, from McGill University in Canada, is so opposed to business schools, even though he is an esteemed professor at that school of business and one of the most influential contemporary thinkers in management. Pfeffer said in his article that “before management can be considered a profession, its practitioners have to see themselves as part of a larger purpose. […] It took science and its application to practice.” Professor Mintzberg in his book Managers not MBAs (2004) argues that “MBA programs pretend to teach management, but in practice do not, because management cannot be taught.” Another angle of Mintzberg’s criticisms against existing MBA programs is that “they are for the wrong people, students too young and too inexperienced to contribute in a meaningful way, or benefit from experienced-based class-discussions on management.”

What do you think about that? Let me put it this way. You make the following decisions: to study to pass the TOEFL test and the GMAT no matter what; to leave your country, even if that implies to break up with someone who you love the most; to take a huge loan that is going to be repaid with your, hopefully, future job in the world of business; to quit your well-paid, current job just to study for about two years and live in a dorm far from your family and friends. However, you are a young professional who does not have enough experience in business to contribute in graduate management classes and, at the same time, the discipline you have chosen to study is not possible to be taught. There is something in that that does not make sense, right?

I respectfully disagree with Mintzbeg. However, I agree with Pfeffer on the fact that «management is still not a profession.» On one side, I think MBAs have the courage to take risks and explore new horizons that others have not, demonstrating some of the strongest qualities of business people, and management CAN be taught through the correct techniques, even though they have to be reinvented. Regarding the last statement, the business case has been going on for many decades and MBA professors have not found a better way to teach management, yet. But on the flip side there is no international body that penalizes business people for their unethical behavior and that is why, unfortunately, management is not a profession at all.

There are AT LEAST four conditions necessary to elevate to the status of a profession any human activity: applied body of scientific knowledge, permanent creation of vanguard knowledge on the field, esprit de corps among members of the same profession, and a code of ethics. The first three have developed the humongous MBA industry worldwide. The last one, quite honestly, “does not matter.” And it is the conditio sine qua non to consider our activity a profession!

SOURCE: «The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders»                                           Max Anderson & Peter Escher (2010)
SOURCE: «The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders» Max Anderson & Peter Escher (2010)

Fortunately, for those who probably do not know some of those interesting facts that sets apart our school from others, Thunderbird was THE FIRST school of business in the world that created an Oath of Honor for managers in 2006. After that, other prestigious universities began a febrile discussion about the topic, and at this point, Harvard Business School’s Oath of Honor is maybe more famous than ours and probably more influential.

Among the fourteen different reasons why I decided to study at Thunderbird, knowing that my school was the first worldwide to create an Oath of Honor for managers is one of the main ones. At the same level, its mission: “To educate leaders who create sustainable prosperity worldwide.” I loved the term “educate” in that line because that is why we are here: to be educated. I strongly believe that business people make the world a better place to live if they have the correct education and Thunderbird has it. All our international business savvy comes from the Best Professors in the World! They represent the spirit imbued in our Oath of Honor. That’s it! I am an optimist and I am opposed to those who have a biased and negative opinion about business people because I have worked with incredible human beings in corporations. Indeed, I do not care if management is or if it is not technically a profession, YET: I am a professional. I strive to do whatever I do respecting business ethics and applying what I have learned when I was educated in my college a long time ago. Guess what? I was 17 years old when I began studying business for the first time and I did not know anything about business! So that argument, dear Professor Mintzberg, is a fallacy –and do not get me wrong, I appreciate you because it was a pleasure to study with your books in the past. Besides that, I have had the opportunity to work at some of the most prestigious leading multinationals and I was always treated as a professional. So do not be negative and let’s keep building our profession by applying not only what we have learned in classes when we go back to work, but also, and more importantly, our MBA code of ethics.

The purpose of this dissertation was to invite you all to have a memorable moment next December 10th at the Jacuzzi fountain. For those who do not know what it is, it is the fountain donated by the original Jacuzzi family located in the middle of Snell´s classrooms. We are going to recite our Oath of Honor all together before graduation and it will be recorded to spread the word. And this is very important: You should bring the flag of your country and be willing to exchange it with another T-Bird. You do not have to graduate in December! If you are a T-Bird, just join us and show up there to celebrate being global managers. Faculty and administrative personnel are cordially invited for us to have the honor to share this moment with them. Just go with an answer to this question: What are you going to do for the world?


Jorge Céspedes is candidate for the Global MBA at Thunderbird School of Global Management. He obtained his B.A. degree and his Title of Licentiate in Business Administration at University of The Pacific in Lima, Perú. He has worked both in B2C and B2B markets, performing sales and marketing roles for Unilever, Bayer, Goodyear, Shell, and recently for GE. He is an arts zealot and he loves, particularly, theater, museums, and classical music. In the future he wants to contribute to the National Industries Association of Peru.


Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Professor at Stanford Business School. “Management a profession? Where’s the proof?” Harvard Business Review, HBR. September 2011.

Costin, Harry. Mintzberg’s Critique of MBA Programs: Does the Data Support Him? <https://hcostin. wordpress.com/2010/03/06/mintzberg%E2%80%99s-critique-of-mba-programs/> MARCH 2010. WEB 20 OCT 15.

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