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The Dark Myth of Corporate America

By Rachel E. Huebner, Crimson Staff Writer

During the late summer and fall, conversations on campus often center on a single topic: recruiting. Some of the recruiting conversations focus on the mundane, such as interview attire or etiquette. However, many of the conversations revolve around an entirely different issue: the idea that going into the corporate world makes one a sellout. Many students who decide to pursue finance or consulting jobs preface their conversations by assuring their friends that: “I won’t become one of them.” They sharply criticize the immorality of the jobs they are pursuing, and openly state that corporate jobs conflict with their values. As the conversation slowly winds down, the individual often states something along the lines of: “I can’t believe I gave in…” and the friend sadly nods his or her head in compassion.

This is the dark myth of the corporate world: that it is devoid of morals or values, and that individuals who pursue corporate jobs are shameful sellouts. This myth rests on dubious assumptions.

There are certainly legitimate and serious criticisms of corporate America. Some corporations and corporate practices have undoubtedly ruined lives. But many of the criticisms that I have heard articulated are unfounded.

One reason college students consider themselves sellouts if they pursue corporate jobs is because they believe that they are pursuing jobs about which they are not passionate. Many students bemoan that they are turning their backs on the disciplines they love. They feel as though they have found their one, true passion in anthropology, history, or physics, and that they will not find fulfillment anywhere else.

While many college students have strong affinities for certain fields of study, most 21-year-olds can’t possibly know the extent or ultimate direction of their passions. Many undergraduates have had little experience in the work force, and have not yet had the opportunity to explore different careers and to see how and where they might blossom.

Furthermore, many students trumpet their distaste for corporate jobs before they even understand what exactly these jobs entail. Students claim that they are sellouts if they end up in this line of work because they thought that they would pursue jobs that “do good”: jobs at non-profits or in public service. Many students criticize finance because they profess that they have no desire to "help the rich get richer,” but these platitudes ignore the multiplicity of jobs that are available in the financial sector.

In fact, corporate jobs often effect change for the better and advance society just as non-profit jobs can. They help finance new ventures, lower the cost of products, and save faltering companies—often protecting thousands of jobs. Take, for example, the case of American Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy in November 2011. The company’s financial situation forced it to notify over 100,000 workers that their pensions could be affected; American Airlines also warned 11,000 workers that they could lose their jobs. However, with help from firms such as McKinsey & Co., American Airlines emerged solvent from the crisis. Without the help of corporate America, the results might have been far more dire.

Many students also claim that they are sellouts because a huge factor in their decisions to pursue these jobs is the salary, which they believe makes their decision inherently wrong. The sole reason to pursue a career should not be economic. But it is naïve to pretend that money isn’t a significant and legitimate factor to consider when deciding what career to pursue. To pursue a career that provides financial security for oneself or for one's family doesn’t make one a sellout. Moreover, corporate jobs allow individuals to be involved in philanthropic pursuits and to invest in major entrepreneurial projects. For example, after quitting his Wall Street job in 1994, Jeff Bezos used his own money to start Amazon—a company that has revolutionized Internet retail since its founding.

Of all the criticisms of the corporate world, the claim that I find perhaps the most problematic is that people who work in the corporate world are immoral. I have heard both students and Harvard faculty describe bankers as the villains of modern society—and as liars and cheats who will do anything to increase their paychecks. This description is so widely accepted that after recruiting events or individual conversations, students often express shock at how seemingly nice a recruiter was. This depiction of the corporate word is a sophomoric attack on an entire industry based on the actions of a number of individuals. There are both moral and immoral people in every field and profession (including academia, the clergy, and politics, to name a few) and it is disingenuous to claim that those who are immoral end up in the business world.

Many students have a deep aversion to corporate jobs based on personal experiences or extensive research, which may well be justified. But many of the blanket statements about corporate America that I have heard on campus are misinformed. So let’s stop propagating the dark myth of the corporate world.

Rachel E. Huebner ’18, a Crimson editorial writer, is a psychology concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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