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From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession Paperback – Apr 11 2010

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
B-school biography tracks educational trends Feb. 15 2008
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This brilliant book is a sociological study of the modern business school, an ill-understood institution that has had a profound impact on the world's economy. Insider Rakesh Khurana, a professor at Harvard, begins in the late 19th century, when B-schools were born into a burgeoning America. Wharton was the first true B-school, established in 1881 with $100,000 from Joseph Wharton, a Pennsylvania Quaker. Programs at elite colleges, such as Dartmouth and Harvard, soon followed. Nasty teething pains, however, upset business schools' infancy. Academics didn't agree on curriculum or even purpose. Moreover, the nagging question about whether business (or "management") was a real profession lingered. In adolescence, the gawky B-schools looked longingly at their unquestionably legitimate, older, wealthier siblings: graduate schools for law and medicine. This led to a business-school image makeover that didn't quite work, according to the author, leaving today's B-schools facing mid-life anomie as the economic value of B-school enrollment - and the resulting M.B.A. - drops. getAbstract recommends this book to anyone who wants to understand the past and future of this influential institution.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Future of Business Schools Jan. 29 2008
By S. Kanitz - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Khurana does a superb historical review of business schools and business education. It clearly shows that one could predict a country's future 20 years ahead if you look at what business schools are teaching at the time. " Tell me what you are teaching in B Schools and I will tell you how your economy will fare in the future'. Seems obvious but no one has done this type of analysis before.
Khurana also shows how americas center-left was instrumental in creating MBAS and a socially responsible business leader, a move we have shifted away since 1970 when "agency theory" got a foothold in Wall Street. A must read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
must-read for all b-school students Aug. 10 2010
By raghu - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I came to this book with a prejudice - I thought business school professors mostly published inane statistical analyses of executive compensation and such other frivolous nonsense. This book definitely contradicts that stereotype and is a fine example of high-quality scholarship on an interesting and important subject.

Khurana's main thesis is that the management profession in general, and the education it receives in business schools in particular, has lost its way in the last 30 years or so. Here, Khurana uses the word 'profession' in its precise sociological sense, not in the loose, colloquial sense in which every specialist is a professional. The sociological literature on 'professions' is too massive to summarize easily in this review; the book does offer a good introduction and many good bibliographical references. For our purposes, a 'profession' differs from a mere 'occupation' in possessing a service ideal i.e. professions claim to serve some kind of a higher purpose in society than just earning a living. Thus, for e.g. a doctor is a professional, but a carpenter is not. Historically, in the West, only 3 groups have enjoyed universal prestige and recognition as professions: medicine, law and clergy. (In case you are wondering, no, the world's oldest profession is not one..)

Khurana develops in great detail the idea that the original founders of business schools, first at Wharton in Pennsylvania and later at Harvard, Yale etc, envisioned management as a profession; its purpose would be to efficiently organize production in the large industrial corporation that was emerging as the dominant organizational form, and do so to the benefit of all of a corporations constituencies ('stakeholders') i.e. employees, customers, owners, the state and the community at large. But starting the 70's, this ideal has degenerated into a monomaniacal obsession with profit maximization with the result that business school graduates are now mere hired hands without any higher purpose even in theory. The recent attempts at creating a Hyppocratic Oath for MBAs is a direct and interesting reaction to Khurana's book:

Khurana's analysis is considerably more sophisticated than the doctrinaire narrative that passes for scholarship on this subject. Khurana mentions Alfred Chandler's "The Visible hand" as an exemplar of this genre. Nevertheless, I do not really agree with his thesis
overall. For one thing his nostalgia for a golden age of idealistic management pioneers seems like a distorted reading of history. And, for all his merits, Khurana apparently is still too much of a prisoner to his institutional affiliations to ask two rather basic questions:

1. Are managers so powerful because our world is dominated by large corporations which require talented men to control and run them? Or is our world dominated by large corporations because managers are so powerful? This may look like a chicken-and-egg dilemma, but it is not. The historical evidence to answer this question is out there for
someone to dig it out. Alas, that someone is not Khurana, at least not in this book.

2. The central conceit of the management profession is that its skills are more-or-less portable. A good manager can lead a automobile manufacturer one year and then move on to a software company the next and still be productive and successful. Khurana completely fails to challenge or critically examine this claim.

Overall, this is still a book very well worth reading especially for anyone interested in getting an MBA.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
From Higher Aims to Hired Hands March 13 2009
By Robert T. Lenz - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Rakesh Khurana's book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession has no peer. Simply put, it is the most comprehensive, probing analysis of the historical development of schools of business and business education that has ever been published. Although the author does not put forth specific recommendations to address issues raised, Professor Khurana identifies the major challenges facing contemporary business schools and describes their implications for contemporary American society. This book should be mandatory reading for every university president, and the deans and faculties of schools of business. I strongly recommend it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Past of Business Schools Feb. 12 2012
By David Foster - Published on
Format: Paperback
For a book about management education, there is surprisingly little discussion about what students do or do not know when they graduate with an MBA, and what might make MBA education better. Perhaps I am not appreciative enough of the sociologist perspective, but it would have been nice to at least hear some speculation about whether the case method is effective (and why), and whether the teaching of theory and quantitative technique is effective (and why). The historical drama concerning which schools fought for which philosophy is entertaining but not very actionable.

Kurhana clearly is still wistful about the aspiration of turning management into a profession, and also seems to share the assumption of most business educators that an MBA education could have a significant effect in changing the character of future business managers. Call me cynical, but I suspect no amount or type of education will ever prevent socially-damaging behavior by some powerful business managers---particularly in the financial sector. The only remedy for that is stronger and more coherent government regulation. (Which not only has the problem of sounding boring and uninspiring, but also would be awkward for a professor at a top business school to argue.)

Unsurprisingly, Kurhana also laments the stranglehold that today's MBA program rankings have on schools' behavior. But perhaps a "half-full" perspective should be given its due. All recognize that our aggregation of business schools performs a filtering role that is critical for society. Through its hierarchy and careful selectivity it ensures that the most talented and capable young adults are channeled into the most responsible roles in our economy, and it does this job very well. And if, during this procedure, those budding leaders incidentally learn some useful business jargon and ideas... all to the better!