All disciplines serve to prepare you for life, but none comes close to Business. An amalgamation of every function, Business School provides a framework to not only identify the problem at hand, but solve it as well. Business School teaches accountability and an understanding that everything has a cost: unless you can sell a product or offer a service at a profit, then your business will undeniably be forced to shut down. But this is only half the story.
Business students today suffer from a superiority complex. Much like previous generations saw mothers flaunt lawyers and doctors, in recent years many parents wished their offspring to become stockbrokers, marketing executives and all-star salesmen. If you wish to be rich after all, politics, law and medicine play second fiddle. For this reason the best and brightest have been lured by business' promise of riches. The dot com meltdown notwithstanding, business remains the single best way to strike it rich. And strike it rich many have, so is it any surprise that business students sometimes suffer from a holier than thou complex? Of course not, but does such an outlook help one in life?
Few business students would rarely hear anything if the largest tree in the world would fall just outside of the business campus, let the tree huggers worry about trees. But if the smallest bag of cash would linger around within our walls, one of us would call shotgun ASAP. To many business students, the world ends beyond the business school building. Arts, Sciences, Engineering, Liberal and Fine Arts students happen to share some classrooms and equipment, but the world belongs to the eventual rulers of the capitalist world. Let those Political Scientists run the Free World, who wants that? We want to rule the almighty buck.
But a closer look would suggest that shunning the interests, concerns and input of non-business students could prove to be a mortal blow to your career before it even takes off. After all, while business students will become your colleagues, peers and competitors, most clients and employees – two important shareholders in the grand scheme of business – consist of non-business students.
A stakeholder is an individual or group that has a share or an interest in an enterprise. Examples include employees, clients, shareholders, community, analysts, media, academia, lobby groups and the industry as a whole. Management thinkers have forever argued over who the most important stakeholder is. Former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, one of the best airline executives in the history of the transportation industry put it best when he said that employees are first, followed by clients and only then, shareholders. Incidentally, he handed off a pristine firm to his successor right before the 9/11 attacks. He went on to earn the Morningstar CEO of the Year in 2001 with incumbent Jim Parker after Southwest Airlines ended the year with record numbers.
While it is true that most executives will have some business background on their academic CV, the bulk of their front line soldiers may have little or no business school experience. So when you become CEO, your holier than thou attitude will do little to motivate them.
The next stakeholder in line is the client. Your analysts may understand why your goods' prices have risen, but your clients care little about market share and margins. It is in your interest both today and tomorrow to be able to listen, understand and communicate with non-business students as they will compose two of your most important stakeholders when you are, well, ruler of the capitalist world of course. Herb Kelleher may have been a chain smoker, but he did not smoke anything funny. He knew what he was talking about and his outlook should serve as basis for yours.
Kelleher notwithstanding, others would argue that shareholders come near the top of any list. While many would view a shareholder as a broker, trader or a fund manager, most are individuals who work hard all their lives and place blind trust on others through their Pension Funds. They may one day rely on your judgment and risk analysis, so having a "my way or the highway" view will prove to be detrimental as you will alienate them. Having an open-minded perspective instead of a close-minded one is even more important when someone else's nest egg is at stake.