Ex-Bush aide Glenn Hubbard to his M.B.A. students: adapt quickly
The economy might be booming, but business as a profession continues to suffer a black eye. The never-ending Enron saga and soaring CEO pay have helped craft an image of greedy, uncaring executives. Other critics have chastised students for choosing business or law over science, engineering, or the humanities. And scuttled deals like the recent Dubai Ports World fiasco have subordinated international business to partisan politics. R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Business, deals with such issues every day. And as chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers during George W. Bush's first term, he has seen the political dynamics up close. He spoke recently with U.S.News's Rick Newman.
What's the bad rap on business?
There's this idea that people should look elsewhere if they want to do something that's noble. But business itself is noble. The best thing we can do for less fortunate countries is help them develop businesses and jobs. Entrepreneurship doesn't just happen. It requires an infrastructure that encourages entrepreneurship.
What's the benefit of an M.B.A. today?
Preparing yourself to be a businessperson is one of the best ways to deal with globalization. When I talk to M.B.A. grads a few years down the road, they always say, "Something I learned through a class experience helped me grab an opportunity when it came across the plate."
What do you try to teach?
We try to work with people on how to spot opportunity. They need to be constantly seeking, so that when the right opportunity comes along they can grab it. A successful business career is not setting some mechanical goal and working toward that. We place an emphasis on an ability to think on your feet and adapt quickly.
The space of time where you can be sure about something is very small these days. A high-growth economy is a high-change economy. Virtually no one has a sinecure where you can just do one thing and sit back.
More students are opting for business and fewer for science and engineering. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, we've been losing students to law schools. But I don't think it's a problem if students vote with their feet and their interests. Business and law are intuitive to students. Science may be less intuitive.
How does globalization affect your students?
My students are unambiguous beneficiaries of globalization. They're very globally aware. A large chunk of our American students have worked abroad. If anything, we're trying to get the faculty to bring more of the world into the classroom. Get them to write case studies on business in China, for example.
How has Columbia dealt with Enron and all the other ethical scandals?
When I was in Washington and all of this started to happen, none of the business schools were talking about it much. It would have been a great pulpit for the business schools to stand up and say this is not what business is about. Now, we teach courses on the trade-offs between individuals, business, and society. Usually the boss doesn't come in and say will you lie, cheat, and steal for me. It's usually more subtle. We try to illustrate the slippery slope.
We had Chuck Prince [CEO of Citigroup] come in, and he and I held a 90-minute panel. He told how the scandals had taken a toll on Citigroup, the difficulty of changing a whole culture that had gone one way for a while. He was very frank and candid. I think it's a lot better for the students to hear about this from professionals who have dealt with it than to have designated ethics classes.
How would you convince Americans, including many worried about their jobs being shipped overseas, that globalization is a good thing?
The leaders of the country have the responsibility to be the chief storytellers about the benefits of globalization. One can imagine the statements that could come out of the White House or the Treasury Department.
There haven't been many statements like that.
I know. That's why I'm saying this now. Globalization and openness raise living standards. We'll all be better off, on average. But not all will be better off. We have to have safety nets for those who get caught in the middle.
Are the politicians in Washington helpful?
Congress needs more of a reality check from the business community. I tell the Business Roundtable, you need to reach out more to members of Congress and educate them about business.
You have a 15-year-old son. What advice do you give him as he starts to think about what to study and what career to choose?
I try not to give him advice, because I know he'll just do the opposite. But what I'd tell teenagers today: Pick a good liberal arts school, and learn how to think.