Last fall, shortly after I started my INSEAD MBA, I had a prolonged debate with a classmate who was actively involved in a student club called INDEVOR which is affiliated with Net Impact, an international group devoted to promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR). Like other members of INDEVOR, this MBA participant was fully brainwashed in the rhetoric of global warming, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship. I had a lot of fun poking holes in the ‘Holy Grails’ of CSR such as carbon trading and climate change.
Having spent the last 5 years before my INSEAD MBA in a small Middle Eastern country, I had been completely sheltered from the whole CSR bandwagon. It might seem hard to believe for some people, but all of these environmental and ‘do-good’ issues are really not on the radar screen in most places. Until I moved to France, I really had no idea how big this issue was in Europe. Most rapidly developing countries (including the one I worked in before coming to Fontainebleau) have more pressing economic and security issues to deal with. ‘Saving the world’ is not high up on the agenda.
As I debated CSR issues with my INSEAD classmates, I was shocked at the dogmatic nature of CSR adherents. They were unwilling to accept any critique of carbon trading or even entertain the idea that global warming might not be man-made. At the same time I was fascinated by the cognitive dissonance which these students exhibited. Many of them seemed deeply troubled by their presence in a business school and deliberately voiced ‘conciliatory’ messages intended to resolve their troubling anxiety. These messages usually involved professing a desire for a post-MBA career in social development or non-profit work. And for some strange reason, my fellow MBA participants would eat up this crap and provide positive reinforcement for these do-gooders. Any expression of wanting to spurn the corporate world and save the planet was met by my fellow classmates at INSEAD with that crazed permanent grin endemic to schizophrenic people. When I shared my own rather traditional post-MBA career goals with my classmates, I was rewarded with scorn!
Of course, I thought that these CSR types were complete flakes and really needed a psychologist to treat their neurosis. If someone genuinely believes in saving the world, they join the Peace Corp, become a social worker, or join a monastic order. Yet for some reason, these people choose to come to business school where they proceed to put on a show of being seriously disturbed by capitalism, global trade, and pollution. And like Al Gore, the carbon trading huckster who buys Ponzi Scheme pollution credits from himself, to magically neutralize his private jet flights, many of the loudest do-gooders at INSEAD live anything BUT ascetic lifestyles.
Surprisingly, rather than being challenged and called on the carpet for their immaturity, these students were further encouraged by companies who have also been infected by the delusional CSR sickness. Companies come to campus spewing the same CSR drivel and trot out dog and pony show speakers to share their wisdom on sustainable development and climate change. In their colorful recruiting material, they haul out the correct buzzwords and rhetoric to show that they too have joined the cult of CSR. I have yet to meet an oil company during OCR, talk about oil, or a consulting firm talk about corporate restructuring projects which involve ‘downsizing’ companies. It’s all touchy feely Kumbaya stuff. One company which I interviewed with during the recruiting season boasts on their website that they are now officially “carbon neutral”. Ironically, sometimes the marketing pitch is out of sync with the recruiting team and many of my classmates have to their surprise been unceremoniously dinged for spewing the CSR rhetoric during interviews, only to be politely told, “Err, we don’t do that kind of work!”
And so I must confess a certain Schadenfreude when one by one, the INSEAD CSR devotees went for the most evil capitalist corporate jobs imaginable. One student who had received multiple offers for corporate jobs made a nauseating show of parading around campus to elicit sympathy for his predicament. He wanted to save the world, but someone forced him against his will to write the GMAT, apply to business school, suffer through the year, apply to corporate jobs, and now he was being forced against his will to accept the offer! And once again, rather than slap this student into reality, everyone was sympathetic. Well not everyone– I certainly won’t be shedding crocodile tears for this particular neurosis.
Another INSEAD CSR adherent shocked me a few weeks ago during a marketing case about Louis Vuitton, when he said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to work for Louis Vuitton?” Huh?! Why would he want to devote his career to convincing women to buy overpriced purses with ugly letters on them? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with trying to get people to buy expensive handbags with ugly letters, unless of course you publicly espouse the mantra of social change. I’m not faulting my classmates for taking these corporate jobs, I just wish they had the maturity to stop whining about wanting to make money and succeed in the business world.