Ethics: This is Quantico, not Harvard, sir …

Punch line: Studies have shown that executives with military experience are less likely to be involved in fraud. 

Students and executives are trying to learn from these leaders through courses taught on a USMC base in Quantico, VA where they face intense ethical challenges.

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QUANTICO, Va. – Sunlight was filtering through the trees as the team trudged up yet another hill to the final objective of the morning.


The mission was simple. The team was to meet with a local village priest and establish a relationship.

The plan quickly fell apart when the group realized the solemn ceremony they had been invited to was a forced “wedding” in which a bride whose hands were bound by rope was carried screaming into a tent.

Now they were faced with a choice.

Protect the woman from possible harm and alienate an important ally or allow the wedding to take place and avoid interfering in a culture they barely understood.

The group consisted of executives who came to the Marine Corps base as part of a three-day course to learn ethical leadership from combat leaders.

In the wake of the Enron debacle, the collapse of Lehman Bros., Bernard Madoff and other moral lapses, business schools are re-examining ethics training.

Traditionally, business schools have taught the skills needed to maximize profits, and given short shrift to softer subjects, such as ethics.

Some executives are turning to the military to fill the gap. The military has long drilled values into their young leaders, emphasizing responsibility and accountability. 

People who served in the military are less likely to be involved in fraud.

At Quantico the executives are issued weapons, carry packs and sleep on the cold ground. They had been up since 2:15 a.m., awakened by explosions.

The instructors are young officers who have led Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. The scenarios seem to be inspired by the often ambiguous worlds Marines and soldiers navigated in those conflicts.

The stakes are rarely as high in the business world as they are in war, where lives are at risk. But that’s why the military is uniquely qualified to teach ethics, executives and officers say. It is harder to maintain normal values amid the death and chaos of war.

This is not Harvard Business School. The military is used to creating realistic training to prepare men and women for war.

The training is designed to be so authentic that it triggers real emotions and fear. There are no right answers.

Excerpted from USA Today, “Executives Learn Ethics the Hard Way: From Marines”

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2 Responses to “Ethics: This is Quantico, not Harvard, sir …”

  1. Sarah Sartori Says:

    Professor Homa! What happened? Did they intervene?

    PS – I love your blog and read it all the time.

    Sarah (Ingalls) Sartori

  2. John Carpenter Says:

    Ah yes…SERE school. (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). Some day we will have to talk about this unique military training.

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