A Harvard Business School é o pilar acadêmico mais prestigioso do capitalismo mundial.
Com tanto poder emanando dos prédios à beira do Rio Charles, é natural — até esperável e, por que não dizer, saudável — que a escola seja colocada sob uma lupa e questionada de tempos em tempos.
É isso que o jornalista Duff McDonald faz em “The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite”, publicado semana passada pela Harper Collins nos EUA e ainda sem editora no Brasil.
Ao longo de 657 páginas, McDonald acusa a HBS de ter substituído sua missão original por uma visão de mundo que foca exclusivamente no interesse do acionista em detrimento da sociedade. Por causa disso, dada sua influência, a escola teria se tornado co-responsável pelos grandes problemas do capitalismo atual, como a crescente concentração de renda nos EUA, o foco no resultado trimestral em detrimento do longo prazo, e condutas pessoais e corporativas que levaram o mundo à crise de 2008.
“A escola teve um começo promissor,” McDonald escreve sobre a HBS. “Wallace Donham, o segundo reitor, entendia que o propósito intelectual de uma escola de negócios deveria ser fazer o que os economistas não conseguiram: desenvolver uma ‘teoria da firma’ viável. A maioria dos economistas não ligam para o que acontece dentro das companhias no mundo real; eles apenas assumem que os gestores são seres racionais. Mas não somos. A oportunidade para escolas como a HBS era chegar a um entendimento — empiricamente, filosoficamente e moralmente defensável — de como agimos.”
Para McDonald, a influência do dinheiro e o ‘sequestro ideológico’ da escola levaram a HBS a deixar a moralidade em segundo plano.
Um ex-aluno, Casey Gerald, diz no livro que “o que a HBS faz muito bem é treinar pessoas para enfrentar situações de ambiguidade, com um nível de informação imperfeita, resultados imperfeitos e prazos apertados, e decidir o que fazer da forma mais eficiente e poderosa. Mas a tragédia da escola é que você pode usar aquela habilidade para fazer duas coisas ao mesmo tempo: para construir grandes empresas e destruir o planeta no caminho. [Por exemplo] Robert McNamara, formado na HBS, fez o turnaround da Ford Motor Company e depois [como secretário de defesa dos EUA] levou destruição ao Vietnã. Temos que ter uma conversa sobre qual das duas coisas queremos fazer — e por que devemos fazer uma e não a outra.”
McDonald gasta bastante energia para crucificar Michael Jensen, professor da HBS entre 1985 e 2000. Jensen é um dos proponentes da ‘Principal-Agent Theory’, que versa sobre o potencial conflito de interesses entre agentes (por exemplo, os executivos de uma empresa) e ‘principals’ (os acionistas). Para alinhar os dois lados, Jensen propôs: “O [acionista] pode reduzir as divergências em relação a seu interesse estabelecendo incentivos adequados para o agente e incorrendo em custos de monitoramento destinados a limitar as atividades aberrantes do agente.”
Foi num artigo na Harvard Business Review em 1990 — “Incentivos do CEO: Não é quanto você paga, mas como” — que Jensen e Kevin Murphy sugeriram planos de ‘stock options’ como uma nova forma de remuneração que maximizaria valor para os acionistas.
Logo que a tese ganhou circulação — com a validação que só a HBS confere — o Congresso americano aprovou uma lei tornando a remuneração em equity mais barata para as empresas. Isso inaugurou a era atual, em que executivos são incentivados financeiramente a focar no aumento do preço da ação.
Mas com o novo incentivo, vieram também as distorções: em poucos anos, empresas como Enron, Global Crossing e Tyco estavam manipulando a contabilidade para turbinar a ação. Coincidentemente ou não, foi logo depois disso que CEOs e CFOs descobriram uma série de novas eficiências que, se ajudaram a firma, criaram deslocamentos econômicos, como a onda de ‘outsourcing‘ e o foco às vezes excessivo na recompra de ações (um fenômeno do mercado acionário americano, não brasileiro).
O atual reitor da HBS, Nitin Nohria, já disse que o livro é exagerado e injusto. Segundo Nohria, ao longo de sua história a HBS “sempre tentou lembrar a seus formandos que, como líderes empresariais, eles têm uma relação profunda e importante com a sociedade, e que a saúde da sociedade também é sua responsabilidade.”
O Brazil Journal conversou com McDonald por telefone semana passada.
BJ: What was the mission of Harvard Business School when it opened in 1908?
It’s always been to create what you might call an enlightened managerial elite. Business people who understand both their responsibilities to the organizations they work for or lead, but also to the rest of society. HBS would not tell you that its mission has changed since then. They’ve repeated this endlessly, and these days the wording is: “to educate leaders who may make a difference in the world”, but the point that I make in the book is that they have lost sight of that mission, while, at the same time, constantly insisting that they have not.
BJ: I see. And why do you say they lost sight of it?
There are a number of factors that I go into the book as to why they have come to have other priorities. But, if you want the simplest one, it is the most obvious one: money.
BJ: You say that “money and influence have distorted the school’s curriculum and its worldview.” Can you give me specific examples of how that happened?
They allow the professors to consult for the companies about whom they’re supposed to be writing unbiased research. So there you have immediate conflict of interest. (This is not unique to Harvard, this is in all the schools, although they may have been among the first to do so.) They ask those same companies for support for their research programs and to support the rest of the school itself. And, in doing so, they have either advertently or inadvertently fallen victim to the problem that you generally don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
BJ: What else?
The curriculum has increasingly become finance-heavy with the result that the majority of their graduates either enter the fields of investment banking, consulting, private equity, venture capital or whatever the financial industry’s flavor of the day is. And while finance is admittedly a crucial part of the plumbing of any modern economy, it certainly doesn’t have a historical record of adding value to society. It’s more about the rationalization process and the means by which companies are funded and get their financing. So while graduates are welcome to go into whatever career they want, it’s really hard to square a school which is the feeder for the financial services industry above all else with its claim to be adding value to society. Those things are not mutually exclusive, but they don’t tend to arrive together.
BJ: In the book, you mention the hiring of Michael Jensen in 1985 as “the moment of peak paradox for the school”. You say his study of finance was “ideologically driven”. Can you explain Jensen’s role and his importance to what you see as the ultimate change in the ethos of the school?
Historically, the school’s focus was on creating managers. It was created to help fill a void in the American economy, which, with the rapid growth of huge organizations, required a managerial layer. That was HBS’ promise: to create the skilled technocrats who could help the organizations move more smoothly and make decisions more effectively. And, they essentially stayed true to that goal through the end of World War II and into the 60s. And when the American economy came into trouble in the 70s, and shareholders began exerting an unprecedented level of power, the hiring of Jensen basically signaled that the school was throwing its lot in with shareholders over managers or even other stakeholders in the company: communities, employees, society. Jensen’s theory was all about motivating management by means of stock options and stock grants to do the will of the shareholders…
They basically turned their back on the idea that managers should exercise judgment. Because as far as Jensen was concerned, the managers were all whores and shareholders needed to find effective ways to control them.
If it was a shift in American culture and society, it was a 180 for Harvard Business School. Because before that time, their core teaching was that managerial judgement was crucial, and post-Jensen, in a shareholder capitalism, managerial judgment is beside the point and even questionable. So, it’s remarkable.
BJ: Is greed good?
I’d respond to that with: is capitalism good? Yes, I’m a capitalist. Is greed good? You know, by its very definition, we’re not supposed to think greed is good, right? Isn’t it one of the seven deadly sins?
Is the pursue of wealth good or bad? To me, that’s up to the individual. Is it good if an entire culture gets seduced by the pursuit of wealth? It doesn’t appear so.
We became a nation with a North Star: it was suddenly the share price. If you’ve got students who without question are some of the brightest and most articulate and most ambitious students you’ll ever find and you let them believe that the pursuit of wealth not only is okay but if you allow them to live under the illusion that the personal pursuit of wealth is good for society too, that’s a tragedy, you know?
What could we have done with all these young and powerful minds that might have been a little better than sending them all to Wall Street? And patting them on the back and telling them that they’re going to do great things in their career at Wall Street while they’re at it? That’s just tragic…
BJ: There are numerous cases — almost every week — of shareholders rebelling against corporate pay that they see as outrageously high. Do you see these as valid attempts to fix the system? In other words, the fixing of what’s wrong will come actually from shareholders themselves?
It’s funny, right? Because they got what they asked for. In the 80s, part of the ‘shareholder revolution’ was an attempt to align the interest of management with shareholders… After the conglomerate area, shareholders were concerned that management was running companies for themselves. So, they decided to more effectively align both sides by incentivizing managers with equity, and it worked too well.
We’re stuck in this situation where management claims it needs to be paid too much because other people are paid too much, and if you’re the only one not paying too much, how are you going to compete? It’s hard to think about how that’s going to stop.
BJ: Is there a risk that the book could turn out to be too broad an indictment of HBS alumni? Of the institution and the alumni? People who may read this and say, ‘Well, I understand the point you’re making but I didn’t come out of it a greedy bastard’.
First of all, the book is not an indictment of the school’s alumni. The point of the book is not that they as a group are ruinous to society.
The more focused indictment is of the administration and the faculty of the school. They are uniquely positioned to keep capitalism honest as part of a great University, and they have failed to do so after a point. Instead, they became an enthusiastic participant in capitalism, and a cheerleader for capitalism, rather than acting in a way one would hope academics would act, which was to clarify the language of capitalism and hold it to account.
Like so many people in the world of money, they have confused the ability to make money with wisdom.
BJ: Do you believe that the things you think are wrong with the school can be fixed?
Sure, I don’t think the school should be abolished, I think they should start doing the thing that they said they were going to do from the very beginning. There’s nothing wrong teaching effective management — it’s how the United States became the global power that it is. It’s got the most effective management. Well, that’s not the whole reason, but it’s a huge reason. If you say your goal is to create an enlightened group of alumni, you should probably try to do that, instead of just paying lip service to it.