Business should respond to an insecure world

By Harmesh Bhambra ‘16

Harmesh Bhambra ‘16

Harmesh Bhambra ‘16

If we are living in an increasingly insecure world, then how will our lives change, if at all? While we should not allow terrorists to alter our routines, there are clearly implications for government. Even the most libertarian of libertarians proposes that government should secure its country; Robert Nozick described this as a ‘night-watchman state.’ Defence is the archetypal public good.

I travelled to Israel for Spring Break. For over half a century, the country has faced existential risks that have organized the priorities of its state. On the trip, a former commander described the total view of threats that Israel considers and highlighted how conscription involves all citizens in securing the state. Upon leaving Israel, I was checked significantly, but I did not mind, particularly given the Brussels attacks a few days earlier.

So, we expect government to respond, and anticipate, security threats – competences that may have been lacking in the Belgium government. But how should business respond?

If security has always been, and may increasingly be, one of the most important challenges we face, then why do MBAs not go into associated fields? There is no ‘defence’ industry category on Booth’s job portal (GTS) and only 141 out of 16,511 job postings are in aerospace/aviation or federal government. We go into consumer technology to improve productivity and healthcare to improve the quality and length of life. But why not defence or security industries to help secure our countries?

A lesson from the financial crisis is that a range of backgrounds in organizations is important to limit groupthink -- which should be avoided to anticipate attacks in an evolving security environment. You need defence personnel who understand the strategies and tactics of war, and who are trained to intervene militarily. But you also need the perspective of historians and theologians to understand the motivations and goals of terrorists (something lacking in government, according to Graeme C.A. Wood’s important Atlantic article, ‘What ISIS Really Wants’); and you need business skills to support the financing, prioritization and development of defence technologies.

Searching for a business response to terrorism.

Searching for a business response to terrorism.

Further, business schools should reflect challenges business and the world face. So why is technology not a requirement at Booth? Technology is important not just because it is integral to the success of a modern company, but also because of the implications for security, involving topics such as data collection, privacy and cyber attacks. For example, data security and privacy are now integral to Apple’s strategy. And while public support for Apple in its (now cancelled) privacy case against the FBI is finely balanced, as global insecurity becomes more prominent there may be greater demand for Apple to hand over data, motivating Congress to enact new legislation.

Defence is not just the domain of government, but also the domain of business. In an increasingly insecure world, business and business schools should respond.


Harmesh is a second-year MBA student.