The Mba Gospel According To Dr. Mark
It's Monday morning in cyberspace, and "Dr. Mark" is hitting his stride: "We will try to help those who take pride in the significance of their service...[who] change the way business is done by re-balancing objectives...[and who see] that business families and personal families flourish together."
The ramble comes courtesy of Mark S. Albion, former Harvard marketing professor turned preacher of corporate conscience--and putative saver of MBA souls. Every third week, he sends his online newsletter--often incisive, sometimes gushy--to 50,000 readers, recounting tales of business and morality and exploring the road to work-life balance. He delivers 40 speeches a year at B-schools, consults on "humanistic marketing," and is starting a headhunting firm called You & Co. to link MBAs with socially responsible employers.
ACOLYTES. It is a rather eccentric gig: Albion says his new company's mission "will be accomplished when no MBA has to say they compromised making a life for making a living." His message, though, has found an audience among a small but enthusiastic movement of B-school students. Students for Responsible Business, a grassroots organization that Albion co-founded in 1993, now has 1,100 members at 106 business schools, including 35 members at Harvard, 56 at Yale, and 40 at Stanford.
Many of Albion's acolytes, in fact, are testing career paths that attempt to forge financial gain with societal good. Northwestern's Michael Payne, for one, wants to pursue renewable energy projects in developing nations. After leaving Notre Dame this spring, Mark Moskowitz will start a nonprofit company with classmates to prepare tax returns for low-income people.
These SRB members hardly are typical B-school denizens. But many MBAs view helping society as relevant to running a successful business. In an SRB-sponsored survey of 2,500 business students last year, 79% said a company should consider its impact on the environment, minorities, and workers' families. Two-thirds said they would take lower salaries to work at socially responsible employers. Of 250 MBAs polled by Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, 87% agreed that corporations should address social issues.
Albion, 46, is tapping this vein, a career turn that amazes former Harvard colleagues. This is the same guy, notes onetime marketing professor Thomas Bonoma, who in the 1980s consulted at Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and taught students how to maximize shelf space and thrash competitors.
Albion says he went through a metamorphosis at Harvard. After six years on the tenure track, he grew disillusioned with the school's "money, power, and fame" culture. "In the classroom, we tried to discuss ethical values in marketing...but our words rang hollow," Albion writes in an unpublished book. His disenchantment grew in 1987 when a consulting client, United Sciences of America Inc., was shut down for operating a pyramid scheme.
HARD LESSON. Albion, who developed USA's marketing strategy, was not accused of wrongdoing. But the experience taught him, he says, that "values and integrity are the No.1 priority." In his consulting, which pays up to $6,000 a day, Albion now marries strategic planning with analyses of employee interests, work patterns, and perceptions. At copying chain Kinko's Corp., he developed a best-practices manual that branch managers use for troubleshooting and idea-sharing--work that has boosted morale, says Chairman Paul Orfalea.
Albion has yet to sell his New Age marketing to the multinationals he worked with in the 1980s. For now, he's content to spit out newsletters, minister to students, and consult to smaller clients. Some, he hopes, will employ You & Co.'s first crop of recruits next spring. At least a handful of students, then, will end up doing something useful for society, even as they make a good living.