There is a prevalent depiction in society that business is inherently selfish and greedy. It’s a typecast that many business people have reluctantly come to accept. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it certainly shouldn’t.
In fact, when people are awakened to the extraordinary power of business to impact the world in a positive way, their attitudes and beliefs can shift dramatically. We experience it first hand as educators at a business university.
Based on conversations and classroom experiences, we have found that some students who go into business feel as if they sold out, that they’re not pursuing a higher calling.
Like any educator, we wanted to test our observations. We surveyed incoming Bentley freshman before they even set foot in a business class, and did find that they have a somewhat cynical view of business, buying into old stereotypes. We also found:
- Male students held the belief that “the sole purpose of business is to make money.” Female students strongly disagreed.
- A majority agreed with the statement: “I view my education here as an investment that will pay off in higher earnings.” Nearly half of students — disproportionately male — agreed with the statement: “In business, nice people finish last.”
- A small majority, particularly among male students, believed that “most employees only care about the size of their paycheck.”
Does this mean that millennials are destined to follow the narrow view of business as being primarily about profits? Are cynical attitudes hard-wired?
The answer is no.
Following a 75-minute presentation on the tenets of Conscious Capitalism — an emerging form of business that maintains that companies can be richer, more powerful, and even more successful when practitioners consciously recognize their total effect on the world, not just on their own prosperity — we found:
- A strong majority of students agreed with the statement that “the most effective bosses are those who inspire and genuinely care about people,” with no difference across men and women.
- Students also strongly agreed that “businesses built on love and caring are the strongest, most enduring businesses,” with no difference across men and women.
- There was strong agreement with the statement “I am now more excited and inspired for having chosen business as a major,” again with no difference across men and women.
We witnessed a significant shift in beliefs about the role and purpose of business and therefore in their own sense of excitement and higher purpose in pursuing business as a calling. Students can and should be energized and excited to become part of an institution that has lifted billions out of poverty and given them the opportunity to lead richer, more meaningful lives.
It is not a misguided notion that business can have a positive impact on the world. Many companies are already doing so. It is a goal worth striving for, and it will help students find greater meaning, purpose and positive impact in their educational journeys and in their subsequent careers.
Isn’t that ultimately what a business school education is all about?