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Train up an MBA in a way he can think

It's time to close the business schools. A classical education must be the fundamental training for our nation's executives. For too long now we have deluded ourselves with that constant image of rank upon rank of MBAs marching out of our graduate centers, armed with a flashing array of keen-edged managerial and fiscal weaponry and leading our corporations to ever-expanding price/earnings ratios. We mistakenly assumed that the worldwide expansion of American business in the '50s and '60s was an affirmation of the management mystiques popularized by business schools spread across this land of singular prosperity (and, one should note, by some aggressive business school professors who hustled sizable fees from corporations eager for the good word). Less glamorous causes of our success went unheeded, such as the absence of competition in the decade after World War II, or the false profits of a ravening inflation.

Today, many of our once proud-hearted management heroes, their glory smeared in dust and debt, are reduced to sweating and whining about their condition and crying for tariff protection or seeking to ape the competition that toppled them from their pantheon.

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Those pretentiously titled courses such as multivariate analysis methods, human resources management, and the like should be consigned to some academic compost heap. The humanities are the tools businessmen and businesswomen must wield to improve production, open markets from China to Peru, and ensure their position in the six-figure-income hall of fame.

For example, former leaders of hapless institutions such as Continental Bank and Braniff Airlines, who once trod the paths of glory, might be in prouder straits today had they been exposed to the essays of Francis Bacon, wherein he said: ''He that resteth upon Gaines Certaine shall hardly grow to great Riches.''

Certainly a former chairman of Bendix Corporation might have benefited from Bacon's admonition that ''... he that puts all upon Adventures doth often times breake and come to poverty.''

(Of course there is no question that Bacon would have deleted the reference to poverty were golden parachutes en vogue by the late 16th century.)

Directors of corporations measuring the worth of prospective chief executive officers would do better having read Plutarch's ''Lives,'' in which it is noted that: ''Good fortune will elevate even petty minds, and give them the appearance of a certain greatness and stateliness ....''

Executives responsible for corporate acquisitions would employ the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote: ''... when a Prince acquires a new State, which thus becomes joined on like a limb to his old possessions, he must disarm its inhabitants, except such of them as having taken part with him while he was acquiring it: and even these, as time and occasion serve, he should seek to render soft and effeminate.''

Aspiring bankers not only would have the ''Inferno'' on their reading list, but they would be required to memorize the punishment awaiting them in Circle VII, Ring iii of Dante Alighieri's version of the afterlife, where ''... this way and that they flapped their hands, for ease from the hot soil now, and now from the burning snow, Behaving, in fact exactly as one sees Dogs in the summer, scuffing with snout and paw ....''

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Even public relations experts would benefit from the guidance offered by Dionysius, the Elder, who said: ''Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.''

And how might the eager executive hasten the climb up the table of organization? Why, by heeding the greatest diarist of them all who, with faltering eyes, wrote late one night in the middle of the 17th century: ''Thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better, and do mind my business better ....''

And then there are the defalcators, swindlers, co-minglers, price fixers, and assorted fast-buck artists who were caught in their transgressions and who instead might be facing a rosy-fingered dawn had they earlier in life absorbed Goethe, whose Mephistopheles offers Faust that legendary countertrade: ''Here I'll pledge myself at your command to serve implicitly and without rest, If when in the beyond we stand You'll do the same for me at my request.''

Finally, what might the executive gain from the visual arts? One lesson might be that hastily gathered corporate art collections often prove to be poor financial investments. But there is a greater and more direct message for the troubled corporate cadre of this country, which is best summed up in ''History of Art,'' by Prof. H. W. Janson of New York University: ''... the craftsman only attempts what he knows to be possible, the artist is always driven to attempt the impossible....''

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