I just returned from the annual Academy of Management conference (AOM) this year held in San Antonio, Texas. AOM is a conference hosted by the Academy of Management, an organization whose vision is to "inspire and enable a better world through scholarship and teaching about management and organizations".
It's been 3 years since the largest financial crisis in history; a crisis that demonstrated the highly destructive behaviour business can have on society. Alongside such travesties as the BP oil debacle and the many documented atrocities on local indigenous communities, the financial crisis has shown quite unequivocally that business is prospering at the expense of society.
Nowhere in the conference was there discussion of our complicity in this behaviour as academics teaching future managers to make the very decisions that led to these crises. Like zombies we walk from session to session discussing trivial independent and dependent variables that ultimately mask the need for fundamental change in management thought. Is this any different from those incumbent businesses that ignore the problems they've created to preserve the status quo that has afforded them so much wealth?
At the conference, I endured the shame of eating breakfast at the hotels where food and drinks were served on styrofoam plates, all of which were slated for the garbage. Imagine 9000 conference attendees disposing of these plates, cups and cutlery over the 5 conference days multiplied by the dozens of conferences like these throughout the year.
With the very humid heat, the large energy-sucking conference rooms populating the hotels were pumped with air conditioning to the point where many participants were wearing scarves. The justification for the styrofoam cups was partly based on the fact that the coffee will get cold in the over-sized refrigerators we were working in.
On top of all this, I have never found it so hard to find a vegetable over a 4 day period. Waffles, eggs, muffins, tarts, white bread, cheerios, meat, chicken and tortillas were all I could find. Absolutely frozen from the air conditioning, a colleague joined me in a session and told me about her dinner experience the night before. She ordered a vegetarian dish at a restaurant and the server expressed her shock and fascination that such a plate had existed on the menu. Either no one ever orders it or the very thought of a vegetable plate appears absurd.
Finally, as I'm boarding my flight home, I'm noticing that one of the most well respected academics doing work in business and the natural environment is boarding the plane before the rest of us to fly First Class!!!
Oh, the irony!!