A Tale of Two Books: Jill Konrath’s SNAP Selling, and The MBA Oath

If you’re a regular Trust Matters reader, I believe you expect high standards from this blog. I’m not about to let you down by recommending weak books. Here are two new books of which I think highly.

SNAP Selling, by Jill Konrath.

I know Jill. She is smart, sassy, Midwest-values based, Minnesota-friendly—and in-your-face New York blunt. It shows in her books, her blog, and her articles. 

Jill is a salesperson turned sales consultant, trainer and author. She has all the tactics and specifics you’d hope for from a good sales book—but she’s grounded in the kind of deep, ethical perspectives on sales that I respect.

SNAP stands for Simple, iNvaluable, Aligned, and Priority. Okay, another acronym; but a good one. Her premise is that everyone is hard-pressed these days, thus every interaction has to count. Every interaction has to meet those criteria.

Jill has tons of practical advice; but I confess I’m even more drawn to the premise underlying all her work. For example: she’s down on ‘always-be-closing’ tactics; sales is ‘no longer a numbers game,’ and my favorite: “sales is an outcome, not a goal.”

I believe you can judge an author by the people who agree to write a blurb for the book itself. Here are a few for whom I have great respect: Mike Schultz,  Keith Ferrazzi, Mahan Khalsa, Dave Stein, Sharon Drew Morgan. And I’m honored to be on that list too.

The MBA Oath, by Max Anderson and Peter Escher.

I first wrote about the MBA Oath a year ago, in early June, 2009. I was very favorably impressed.

I later sought out Peter Escher, co-author, and interviewed him last November. 

In January of this year, I participated in a “pro-con” Debate Room article on I took the position that the Oath would be effective. 

I have to confess, I was shocked at the vehemence of the cynicism reflected in the responses to that article. They accused the oath-propagators of being cynical, stupid, venal, naïve, ignorant, and—in one case—anti-capitalist. 

Well, this book—The MBA Oath—is the answer to every one of those complaints, if the complainers will only take the time to read it.

I expected this to be a quick book; it was hurriedly written and produced—but it has depth way beyond books written over years.  

Perhaps this is due in part to the early influence on the authors of the faculty member who’s just been elected Dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, a man who had considered just such an oath years ago.

I also suspect the influence of a legend in publishing, Adrian Zackheim.

Anderson and Escher are generous in their acknowledgements to these and many others. But there’s no denying a truth: these two have written a helluva thoughtful book. There are a dozen places in this book touching on topics I’ve blogged about where I thought, “Darn, they said it better than I did.” 

To many, the most powerful part of the book is the second part, where the Oath’s statement of purpose and 8 promises are detailed, with a chapter for each. These are thoughtful, nuanced discussions about issues like ethics and the law, man’s relation to man, and the purpose of business.

They are as comfortable citing Immanuel Kant and John Rawls as they are taking apart Milton Friedman, while still knowing their marketing history and staying current with Michael Jensen and Dan Ariely

But I find Part I, The Profession, the most compelling. Here the authors diagnose just what went wrong. None of these insights are unique, but they are very well assembled. Consider:

Markets rely on rules and laws, but those rules and laws in turn depend on truth and trust. Conceal truth or erode trust, and the game becomes so unreliable that no one will want to play…We will be left to rely increasingly on governments for the creation of our wealth, something that they have always been conspicuously bad at doing. Charles Handy

Sociologist Robert Merton argued that codes have enormous influence on behavior because they provide guidelines. They can produce negative emotions of shame when the code is broken or positive feelings of pride when it is kept…

In 1908, when Harvard began the world’s first two-year masters program in management education, it was called a “great, but delicate experiment” by Lawrence Lowell, who went on to become president of the university…

When HBS opened its campus in 1908, Owen Young, the president of General Electric, said… “Today the profession of business at Harvard formally makes its bow to its older brothers and holds its head up high…Today and here business formally assumes the obligations of a profession, which means responsible action as a group, devotion to its own ideals, the creation of its own codes, the capacity for its honors, and the responsibility for its own discipline.

In other words, the foundation of Harvard Business School sounded one helluva lot like The MBA Oath.

The authors brilliantly point out a major inflection point: major reports by the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation in the 1950s. They examined business education, and found it wanting. Specifically, they said it needed to look more like regular academic education.

That was the beginning of the end. As the authors put it:

The purpose of business schools changed. It was no longer to turn management into a profession; it was to turn management into a science. Professors became more like academics elsewhere, researching increasingly narrow and obscure areas so they could publish and win the esteem of their peers. The focus on training leaders who could competently and responsibly manage complex organizations was almost lost in a new age of training analysts with the newest financial formulas. The “great, but delicate experiment” of turning management into a profession had ended.

This book deserves a lot more readership than its admittedly necessary title will probably grant it. Anyone with interest in corporate ethics, regulation, the law, general education, industrial economics, corporate strategy and general management would in my opinion be well-advised to read it. 

Among other things, the book itself goes a good way to restoring the moral currency of the MBA degree.

The MBA Oath: Interview with Peter Escher, Executive Director

Springtime of the second year in an MBA program is when students turn reflective.   For the class of 2009, it was also a year in which the job market for MBAs looked daunting, to say the least. With the economy in the pits and the degree in some disrepute, several members of the Harvard Business School class of 2009, encouraged by faculty members Rakesh Kurana and Nitin Nohria, developed an earlier version of an “MBA Oath,” and began to publicize it.

In late May 2009, when the New York Times caught wind of and wrote about it, roughly 20% of the class of 2009 of Harvard Business School had signed the MBA Oath. On June 8th, when I wrote about it, the numbers had jumped significantly.
By June 11, when BusinessWeek wrote about it, over half the class had signed. Today, in November, 65% of the HBS graduating class has signed.

Perhaps more importantly, the Oath has become something of a movement. It has a permanent home, at . It is a 501(c)3 organization, and has an Executive Director, Peter Escher (signer number 5 of 1704, as of today). It has spread well beyond Harvard Business School, and in fact the mission is to develop chapters globally.

I sat down (virtually) with Peter Escher to chat. Excerpts follow:
CHG: What’s the essence of the MBA Oath?

PE: It’s an embodiment of our belief that things have changed over the past few decades, and that business has responsibilities to do things right, and obligations to society. Mechanically, it’s a preamble about the role of business, and eight specific tenets. A key part of the statement is “my purpose is to serve the greater good.” A sample tenet is “I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.”

CHG: It has really taken off; were you surprised?
PE: Candidly, yes. It turned out we were part of a very big wave. It’s humbling, as well as exciting.
CHG: What drove you to do it?

PE: The spring was a time of reflection—the role of an MBA was very much on our mind, what with Harvard MBAs in leadership positions at so many Wall Street institutions, and the indictment of business leadership in general. Rakesh and Nitin pointed us to some early versions of the Oath that had been developed, along with the World Economic Forum. We took it from there, aiming just to get 100 signers. Of course it went well beyond that.

CHG: On the face of it, the Oath sounds unobjectionable. But you have gotten objections, yes?
PE: Oh yes. The top ones are:
1.    I don’t need an oath to be ethical; in fact, this implies I’m not.
2.    I won’t sign because there’s no enforcement mechanism.
3.    It’s all just Harvard spin.
CHG: And how do you answer those?

PE: To the oath/ethics connection, we note that law and medicine have very similar oaths. We are trying to get business to emulate those models.

To the enforcement issue, the oath won’t prevent bad actors from acting badly; but it can give aid and comfort to those who want to do the right thing by saying it publicly, along with others.

To the Harvard spin, we want to make this very much not about Harvard, but about business and MBAs in general. As to spin in general, well that’s a sad indicator of how big a hole we’ve dug ourselves as MBAs and businesspeople.

CHG: What activities are you undertaking to move forward?

PE: We have oath signers from over 250 MBA school programs at this point, and have active participation (attend our conference calls and the like) from over 25 campuses. We’d like this active participation to grow to even more schools. We want to expand our Board membership to other schools.

We held a Fall Summit, with representatives from 9 business schools, and from the Aspen Institute and the United Nations Global Compact.

CHG: What are your ambitions?

PE: We’d like to get 10,000 MBA signers by next year at this time. Since the top-55 US-based MBA programs (according to US News & World) generate roughly 12,000 graduates annually, it implies that we need to focus on US and non-US programs, and alumni as well.

CHG: How do you wish the MBA Oath will be used?

PE: As a touchstone, a guideline for discussion, and a tool for education.  It is a way for like-minded people to identify each other. We’re not out to codify rules or procedures for every situation. We want to productively guide discussions, and to enable signers to have guidelines in mind before they go into challenging situations.

CHG: Trust seems clearly implied in some of the Oath; is that how you see it?

PE: One thing we’re aware of is that transaction costs in the economy are increasing massively. Trust is the scale answer to cutting down on transaction costs. If you didn’t have trust, business wouldn’t happen at all. And if we had more trust, it’d work a lot better.

CHG: You’ve got the bully pulpit; anything more you want to say?
PE: Just read what we’re about; agree or not, please have a point of view. Our website is
CHG: Peter, thanks very much for your time, and best wishes to you and MBAOath.