Business, Capitalism, and Professional Identity

Is business a profession?  If it is, what professional characteristics should members of the profession embody?  Most people are familiar with professions such as law and medicine. Precise definitions of ‘profession’ vary, but they typically include a significant intellectual component (often requiring graduate school and/or an apprenticeship), barriers to entry (like the bar exam for lawyers), dual obligations (responsibility to the client and to the system in which the professional works), and self-regulation (e.g. doctors and lawyers typically sit in judgment of other doctors and lawyers for professional ethics matters).  Achieving professional success requires the development of particular traits and habits.  If you want to learn a profession and surmount barriers to entry, you must delay immediate rewards for a longer-term investment of time and money.  If you want to serve your client well and honorably represent your profession, you must learn to be trustworthy and reliable to your clients and to your professional community as well as hold your peers to the same standards.

We believe that business is a profession because, like other professions, it requires probity: strong moral principles that guide the right balance of obligations to one’s self and one’s community.  To be successful in business you have to be self-aware of what you want to do and why it’s important to you; dedicated to developing your idea into a product, usually by working closely with partners; committed to finding customers who value your product; and efficient at applying the means at your disposal to reach your goal.  This is certainly self-interested success, but it only works if you develop a reputation for self-control, honesty, trustworthiness, and reliability in your dealing with others and, most importantly, learn how to see the world from the point of view of your customer and sympathize with their needs, goals, and desires.

Wake Forest and the Center for the Study of Capitalism believe that business is a noble profession and that it is our role to educate students to conduct themselves honorably and as stewards of the whole profession, not merely prepare them for individual success. The School of Business has adopted four key concepts to prepare graduates who are practical, honorable, professional, and global in their approach to business. The Center for the Study of Capitalism is the proponent for the “professional” concept, which has three components. As its proponent we teach students to:

  • Create Value for Others. Graduates understand the nature, function, benefits, limits, and sustainability of market economies, and can create value within them.
  • Embrace a Professional Identity. Graduates understand what honorable business is, and embrace an integrated identity as members of the noble profession of business.
  • Steward the Profession of Business. Graduates understand and commit to stewardship of the honor, traditions, and productive and innovative culture of their profession, and work to strengthen their community using the skill and expertise of their professional training.