Last year a few Harvard Business School grad students, Max Anderson and Peter Escher, were tired of hearing how all their MBA brethren were responsible for destroying the global economy. But rather than play the blame game, they opted to try and set some new ground rules.

They created The MBA Oath, similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors, and essentially a new ethical code for business managers to follow.

They've since earned their own MBAs, and the oath has gone on to include members from over 250 business schools and organizations and a new book.

We caught up with Anderson and Escher to see if their business ethics chops might also translate into advice for some more everyday ethical minefields.


stadium trash pick up personThe Argument: It's OK to leave trash on the ground at a stadium or movie, because it's someone's job to clean it up.

The Ethical Response:
"We used to think it was OK," Anderson says, "but my wife pointed out that it's inconsistent to leave garbage at a stadium or a movie theater, but not in other places. It's someone's job to clean up your office too, but you don't leave your food and garbage on the floor there. At McDonald's, if you leave your Big Mac remains on the table, you're definitely 'that guy.'"

And, since the main objective of our lives is to avoid being "that guy" at all costs, we're all too familiar with their point. We accept this behavior at a movie or sporting event, though, because we don't have to actually watch someone clean up after us. "We don't think about the consequences there, so we don't feel guilty about it," Anderson explains.


The Argument:
Firing someone via text message is a good way to avoid an unnecessarily awkward scene.

The Ethical Response: Just like breaking up with someone in a text message, Escher tells us, "It wouldn't be right to fire an employee by text." While it might save you the uncomfortable conversation to follow, avoiding uncomfortable situations isn't synonymous with "ethical."

"Be accountable for your actions and get the guts to have the difficult conversation in person. You owe it to your employee." The same goes for quitting this way, too. "Just like firing someone by text doesn't show respect to the person, quitting that way doesn't show respect to the company. A resignation letter should be more than 140 characters."

The Argument: A company that has the money to pay out massive bonuses has every right to do so, regardless of whether or not it pisses people off.

The Ethical Response:
"It's a bad PR strategy," they tell us. "When everyone else is down on their luck, it doesn't smell right to give a big bonus - and if the first whiff you catch of an action makes you question whether or not it's ethical, you probably want to reconsider."

And this cuts to the core of what the MBA oath is all about: "When banks receive taxpayer money to stabilize them and pay out big bonuses, the justification that you need to pay your top talent big bonuses loses some luster. We think the purpose of management is to create value, not just capture it."

Disagree with Escher and Anderson? Let us know in the comments.