The Hippocratic Oath of the Manager: Good or Bad Idea?

The new trend of MBA graduates taking formal oaths that are very similar to the Hippocratic Oath seems to be rapidly growing in recent years. The practice was initiated by two professors of Harvard Business School—Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohra (Jasso, 2010). They believe that the solution for the business crisis is to turn management into a profession. Michael Skapinker, on the other hand, is doubtful about the usefulness of the idea of MBA oaths (Jasso, 2010). Nonetheless, the dramatic growth of the trend calls for a closer investigation of the issue.

The main of Jasso’s argument has to do with the fact that the existence of a competitive and properly regulated market eliminates the necessity for taking an oath (Jasso, 2010). He contends that the very nature of competition serves as a moral certification for businesses and prevents them from engaging in dishonorable behavior. Jasso believes that any fraudulent practices will be swiftly punished by consumers who will not tolerate deception and will swiftly change their purchasing habits thus rewarding more scrupulous organizations.

He supports his claim by the fact that there is no demand from stakeholders who have the most interest in the wellbeing of their enterprises for mandatory oath-taking for their managers. On the contrary, they are interested in executives who can produce results while abiding by the law and value-centered practices of their businesses (Jasso, 2010).

Even though Jasso’s critique of Khurana and Nohra’s vision of the market is quite reasonable and well-explained, it lacks a few points (Jasso, 2010). It can be argued that their approach to economic problems is one-sided. Professors propose the noble idea of regulating managerial behavior by taking an oath that would infuse them with the sense of duty that could prevent them from putting their interest before that of a client (Jasso, 2010).

However, they are taking an idealistic world view where moral certification in the form of an oath would be a guaranty of honest behavior. In reality, there would be a need for a regulatory body that would track the performance of managers and discourage any unfair practice. The real life example of such an organ is a medical profession where a board of medical examiners has the authority to issue or revoke licenses. Their mission is the protection of consumers through vigorous enforcement of relevant legislation. Moreover, they have to make sure that only competent professionals provide health care that maximizes the positive health outcomes of patients.

Medical boards are governmental bodies that have been granted legal power to perform regulatory functions. Therefore, it can be said that the weakness of Jasso’s argument becomes apparent when its premise that the regulatory board cannot perform the role of a moral controller is closely examined. Taking into consideration the fact that such organs already exist in medical, legal, and accounting professions, it is not clear why similar institutions cannot operate within other dimensions. Moreover, it opens a door for introducing a question about the utility of annual certification of doctors and other professional healthcare professionals.

Nonetheless, such a deductive argument would be wrong considering that its premise is doubtful. Jasso’s line of reasoning could be extended further and applied to the medical field to prove that the Hippocratic Oath is useless in a system of free-market healthcare and, therefore, it should be revoked. However, if his argument is correct, it should consist of the true proposition that health care delivery operated under conditions of free market guarantees largely fair practice. The reality does not provide evidence that would support this claim thus rendering Jasso’s argument incorrect. Therefore, it can be said that the practice of MBAs taking an oath should be used in conjunction with other factors regulating managers’ behavior.

Another Jasso’s argument that has to be closely examined is the idea that management is a profession regardless of whether an individual engaging in the practice of governing an organization has a degree or not (Jasso, 2010). The author maintains that unlike other professions such as a doctor or a lawyer that are characterized by practicing medicine or law, the ability to operate a business is an art that cannot be perfected (Jasso, 2010). He believes that even though business schools like Harvard are known for their scientific approach to teaching, it nonetheless can be called an amalgam of science and art. Jasso’s argument has merit because it correctly identifies the structured approach to business study while not forgetting about an art component.

Numerous disciplines such as law, finance, marketing, accounting, organizational behavior, and ethics among others have to be mastered to be able to successfully manage an enterprise (Jasso, 2010). Even though academic skills are necessary for graduates, they will not be able to choose the best course of action for their organization without having extensive knowledge in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and sociology (Jasso, 2010).

The knowledge provided in this article can be used as a starting point for proposing a framework of government regulation for the business world that would be similar to already existing structures in medical and legal fields.


Jasso, S.D. (2010). The Hippocratic Oath of the Manager: Good or Bad Idea? Philosophy of Business, 56, 1-5.