Tag Archives: MBA

TO MBA OR NOT TO MBA

BEFORE GETTING UNDER WAY with this essay, a little background information seems in order.

First, as most friends and followers on Twitter and Tumblr know, I advise industrious business executives in the boardroom and teach enterprising MBAs in the classroom. Consequently, I get asked by many curious aspirants—some through known friends and extended family and others through social networking sites—about MBA programs, eligibility criteria, admission standards, success in program, which MBA program and where, etc. Though I objectively answer their questions via e-mail ping pong, I felt an essay encapsulating most of their queries would save my time and theirs, and also shed light to the many interested visitors to my blog site who seek information and help.

Second, many of the opinions put forward in this essay have emerged from my own experience as an MBA student and MBA alumni ambassador, as a management consultant recruiting star MBAs from top-tier business programs, and as a business school professor teaching at many premier MBA programs and formats. So, let me assure you that everything you find to be biassed or inadequate in this piece is entirely my shortcoming; although to be fair, I also claim responsibility for any parts which end up enlightening you.

Better known by the acronym, M.B.A. stands for Master of Business Administration. Since the beginning of the 1960s, the number of MBA degrees granted and the starting salaries of grantees have climbed steadily and sharply in the US, soon followed by rest of the world. Even in production-focused regions, the need for managerial education triggered a renewed concern to build business schools that today the MBA degree has become ubiquitous throughout the developing world as the degree of choice for business managers. For instance, the late 1990s witnessed mushrooming of business schools in every corner of the Indian subcontinent. While the altruistic—and usually academia—sides of the MBA story downplay the validity of some popular but crass MBA stereotypes, there is no dispute about MBAs being potent career and salty booster.

Despite the niggling reports, considerable ear-bashing criticisms and negative rumblings about the MBA which have emerged in business journals and magazines, the key findings of the Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual global survey of employers—which polled more than 500 employers from 44 countries, including 36 of the Fortune 100 companies—divulge that employer demand for MBAs is still on the rise today. Corporate recruiters in the GMAC survey indicated 72% new MBAs met expectations, 24% exceeded expectations, and 4% did not. The value of the MBA degree has been debated for years, yet company executives, recruiters, and human resource departments continue to view business programs as an effective way to develop talent in-house (via sponsoring employees to undertake part-time and executive MBA programs) or to hire new MBA graduates from business schools nation-wide as prospective business leaders. The findings also go to show that the value an MBA degree commands is often seen as a productive investment for employers in the context of managerial competencies:

1. Ability for linear, lateral, and creative thought;
2. Possess outstanding leadership potential;
3. Skill to minimize learning curve;
4. Capacity to bring the most out of individuals and teams;
5. Provide strategic, long-term focus.

I will revisit how business schools train MBAs in these competencies later in this composition.

Typology of Business Programs

All business programs are not equal. Owing to the immense popularity among recruiting business organizations and student communities, business schools have cleverly come up with alternative business programs, such as Master of Marketing Science, Master of Management, Master of Finance, Master of Accounting, etc., but none of these surrogate programs compare to the appeal, eminence, and value of the MBA program. Again, as a result of demand and esteem of the MBA program, business schools have devised many money-making opportunities by inventing myriad MBA programs: (1) Full-time MBA (which I refer as MBA); (2) Part-time MBA or Manager’s Program (which I refer as TMP, the Manager Program); (3) Executive MBA or EMBA; (4) Other corporate programs with glorified program titles.

All MBA programs are also not equal. TMP and EMBA programs are cash cows for the b-schools. Most TMP participants are between 30 and 45 years of age, and they juggle with their full-time work during day and attend classes in the evening/night or over weekends. EMBA program is targeted to those who have at least 4-5 years in a supervisory or a managerial role. As a result, EMBA students are typically between 35 and 50 years of age, with the average student in early 40s. Even though business schools claim admission requirements for TMP and EMBA programs include the same basic elements as those required of younger, more traditional full-time MBA students, the contrary is often true. Admission standards and eligibility criteria for full-time MBAs are more stringent owing to the demand. For instance, the average score on the GMAT for a part-time MBA admit at the Stern School is 660, where as the average is 710 for a full-time MBA. Prospects to the full-time MBA are screened by admission officers—those who have post-baccalaureate degrees in psychology, and hence the thaumaturgical know-how to magically evaluate business potential in candidates—through an excruciating personal evaluative interview. I recall attending a few hour-long interviews at neutral turfs (lobbies and conference halls of five-star hotels in downtown Chicago) and on-campus sites. Owing to flat economic growth, forgone salary for two years for the full-timers, and more importantly corporate sponsorship (seen as opportunity cost) for the TMP and EMBA programs, business schools find these programs the staple off late. So, business schools are trying different strategies to increase enrollment by establishing satellite campuses in urban centers.

Despite the part-time fever, the full-time MBA program remains the gold standard. Full-timers are deemed darlings; they receive the most budget while producing the least revenue to the b-school. Full-time MBA programs benefit from more financial aid; most tuition scholarships and graduate assistantships, if any, are offered solely to full-timers.

In a study conducted by Bruce (2006), “MBAs in full-time programs rated overall value of their program higher (n = 11,672; M = 3.8; SD = 1.1) than those in part-time programs (n = 3,388; M = 3.5; SD = 1.0) or EMBA programs (n = 1,002; M = 3.8; SD = 1.0). MBAs rated overall value outstanding at nearly twice the rate of those in part-time MBA programs.” Part-timers are caught between the hammer and anvil; their employment situation was not going to likely change, and they continue to prevail as an ignored lot by the full-timers. The b-schools covertly embrace their full-timers more tightly; after all it is the younger, more dynamic MBAs they bank to bring fame to the alma mater, not those who are halfway through their professional lives. Given a choice, recruiters also prefer the risk-taking trait of the full-time MBAs than the risk-averse part-timers. Consequently, part-timers are less attached than the blindly devoted patriots of the full-time MBA stream. It seems counterintuitive, but the more satisfied the part-time MBA and EMBA are with their current employment, the more they are content with their MBA program or proud of their alma mater.

To revisit the five points listed regarding the value derived from an MBA program, the total immersion experience students get in a full-time program allow them to create skills and get a depth of understanding that no other MBA program can amply deliver.

The learning outcomes are promoted by interactions among connective, critical, and personal thinking in the business decision-making process. The word “connective” introduces the idea of group-think. The full-time MBA program promotes better peer-to-peer learning, which helps to identify and question tacit mental models and compare them with others to examine, interpret, predict and perhaps transform their own thinking patterns. The emphasis on contribution rather than personal gain is a key insight into the evolving face of MBAs. Rather than a mechanism for high-thrusters to claw their way up corporate ladder, which by the way is still the chief motive for many, MBAs are increasingly playing a more nuanced role as contributing planks in a bid to build a more interconnected world.

The issue of diversity in the workplace is a major concern in the US and European economy. Increasing opportunities for women and racial minorities in the ranks of top management has become an important societal objective. We live in an interconnected, complex world with diverse people, firms, and governments whose behaviors aggregate to produce novel, unexpected phenomena: political insurgence, market crashes, and a perpetual array of social trends. Thus, diversity in the MBA student body is an explicit component of the AACSB accreditation standards; a more diverse student body is expected to yield richer educational experience for all students. The internationalization of both the curriculum and the student body has been focal point of contemporary business education that inevitably full-time MBA programs are better positioned for its heterogeneous credentials. The gender, racial, academic, and cultural diversity of the business program is more likely represented in its MBA student body than among TMP and EMBA communities. After all, TMP and EMBA programs tend to serve specific localities and regions, even though I have known a few sedulous executives fly a few thousand miles every week from their hometowns to b-schools to complete their MBA in three years. Although data are not subjected to stringent statistical testing, diversity measures appear to show that MBA programs are more diverse in comparing them with TMP and EMBA counterparts.

There are myriad student-led clubs, copious management-related activity outside the lecture halls, plenty of networking opportunities with corporate leaders and recruiters routinely held during day hours when part-timers and EMBAs are boiling the ocean at work. The friendships that a full-time MBA program permits are very significant both from a personal and professional standpoint. Given the opportunity, employed alums are the source of networking and placement opportunities. They also provide internship leads for their classmates seeking specific occupational or industry exposure in their post-MBA endeavors.

Business education is not only about business frameworks, case studies, and analytic orientation. It is a niche program that requires participants to be equipped with necessary knowledge to manage men, materials, and matters. Though critical issues of competing with people, problem-solving and implementation, and management and control of processes are best imparted across all MBA formats, amorphous matters such as imagination, creativity are best provided in a full-time immersion. Older executives do not stand for witchcraft, and such abstractive thought pattern seems more suited for younger men and women of the regular program. Also, learn-by-doing methods such as on-field work (participation observation techniques, ethnographic research), experiential learning methods, simulated games (in-the-classroom drama, brand battles, business war games, or computer-assisted simulations) are sometimes eschewed or ignored from programs for older adults. You may not be imprecise to declare that these so-called equivalent MBA programs are specialized in training in the functions of business, but not in path-breaking components of non linear thinking, innovation, and creative-thinking skills. All MBA participants are trained to be competent number crunchers, but full-time MBAs are provided more opportunities to get their hands dirty.

To develop rebranding strategies for a premier US-based business school, I conducted a research study to identify five factors why students enroll in an MBA program: (1) new career opportunities; (2) personal development and experience; (3) increased salary, (4) networking opportunities, and (5) change of career and/or industry. As you can recognize none of the factors really denote the students wanted to acquire business skills or business knowledge in their MBA program. The aspirant’s purpose to pursue a business program that best fits to address all of the five factors is championed by the touchstone of full-time, two-year MBA program. A part-timer or EMBA already holds employment and the employer sponsors tuition fee. Many organizations expect such students to sign a service agreement that they will continue their employment post-MBA. I’ve observed upward career mobility among this clan of graduates only when they work in a progressive-minded company, not in conventional outfits of old economy like insurance, engineering, manufacturing verticals. Changing industry is almost unprecedented. There may be networking opportunities should the part-timer or EMBA is willing to forego a few hours during the day when most of such events, workshop, guest lectures, etc. are organized on-campus. You decidedly lack a sense of social belonging.

I’ve taught full-time, part-time, and executive MBA programs for eight years across four continents. It is usually the same content I deliver across all MBA formats; most times, the same set of lame jokes. I can easily accommodate the part-time and EMBA programs with my full-time consulting engagements, because they’re more flexible; held usually in the evenings or weekends. Also, from a monetary point of view, part-time and executive MBA programs pay the faculty better. It should be a no-brainer from a faculty perspective to prefer these surrogate programs. You should know as a faculty I thrive on my audience energy and creativity. Since full-time MBAs are in their mid-20s to early-30s, they are often driven and dynamic, and know how to leverage my experience and knowledge. The more I challenge them, the more out-of-the-cube they are in their deliverable. They seldom disappoint. Also, I have come to believe that true measure of intelligence is the ability to change, which comes naturally to these MBAs owing to their age and attitude. Unmistakably, I have more fun teaching them. Even when I had consulting engagements, I would not mind taking a cut in my salary to be able to maintain my professorial role teaching the full-time MBAs.

Finally, there’s the MBA-on-steroids. Business schools invented the one-year, fast-track, full-time MBA program, again another money-making opportunity. As a word of caution, if it takes ten months to give birth to a baby, the MBA aspirant should know it takes two years to make an MBA.

The Ranking of MBA Programs

If the absolute values of factors listed in previous section are focused on, MBA applicants may fall into a trap such as a blind trust in b-school rankings. And, there are many: The Economist, Financial Times, US News and World Report, Business Week to name a few. Most regional business journals also conduct annual research on business programs to publish rankings within their region. Truth be told, ranking is based on data supplied by b-schools who therefore have teeming reasons to present data in the best possible light to wangle a better ranking. No independent audit. But, it’s always the same set of b-schools that get to play musical chairs. The MBA rankings published are never the same. The Gordian knot is that various publications weigh easily countable measures–average GMATs and GPAs, starting dollars and cents–contrastingly. Though these statistical measures are important, I believe it rarely constitutes other measures of qualia: teaching standards, strength of alumni network, or friendships forged. In order to help you save a dime from purchasing the latest ranking, a list of top business schools is organized alphabetically at the end of this section (those superscripted by asterisk superstruct the paragon of cool up on the elite bunch).

The MBA program is unlike any other program. The major function of MBA programs can be viewed as a learning intermediary institution that bridges or its students to their future dream careers. No other school in a university has career management centers to place its students in dream jobs. To expound this viewpoint allow me to use an analogy. Let’s suppose, an MBA is like suit you wear. You can purchase a suit at a retail store, at the shopping mall, or spend $1,000 on a designer suit. All suits make you look dapper. Similarly, all b-schools impart the same content, and are taught by equally competent professors whose resumes also look similar. But, people know what suit you wear by merely looking at the suit you are wearing. It’s just that stitch, style, and quality of a well-made suit that is easily discerned by the naked eye. Continuing with the suit analogy, top business programs boost an MBA’s confidence. Upon graduating, you never have to explain yourself. To put it in another way, you can say the dumbest of things, and still get away saying it. The top-tier MBA after your name fixes most profound mistakes, which is a rare luxury you get for life. MBA is a label; MBAs are branded by the school. Consequently, my simple advice to MBA aspirants is to target top-tier MBA programs. You will not only go to b-school with very intelligent and articulate fellow MBAs, but you will find most of them interesting, extraordinary, and cool.

I also believe that school reputation or brand name correlates with career advancement. If an MBA is an investment in yourself and that you should look to get the best return on that investment, you must massively increase your monthly paycheck compared with how much you’re defraying on tuition, living expenses, and absence of income for those two years. Why I place strong emphasis on school reputation is because a high-wattage name on an MBA’s resume offers significant leverage when seeking employment. The value of an MBA from a top-ranked program is perceived to be much higher than the value of an MBA in general. Boston Consulting or Bain would not interview an MBA from Penn State (Smeal), but would offer to recruit as many as thirty MBAs on-campus from U-Penn (Wharton). The general consensus is that it is less time-consuming to select new recruits who already bear the stamp of quality than finding the jewel in the haystack at non-ranked MBA programs. However, do not conveniently assume that if you graduate from an Ivy League you get to work in top management consulting firms by default. It’s just that your chances are brighter.

Top-tier business programs have developed a strong reputation in business education. For instance, Harvard Business School invented the case study method in the 1920s, which is imitated in every other b-school in every corner of the globe. Thunderbird invented international management soon after the second World War ended. Today, most business schools are fashioning themselves globally savvy and international in its outlook. Matriculating at a b-school that copies Harvard or Thunderbird is a horrendous idea for anyone keen in meeting the complex business challenges. B-schools imbibe their frailties, bereft of the benefits.

Top business programs attract the best talent. Smart companies want smart MBAs to work for them. So, top-tier business programs attract progressive-minded and innovative companies, top-four consulting/auditing firms, large VC firms, big-name agencies, visible brands etc.

Conversely, top-tier b-schools have identified unique characteristics of the incoming students to determine the outcome of their MBA programs. They do not accept those who do not have clear plan; you need to show that you have a propensity for some sort of leadership and that you need the degree to get where you want in that business. Permit me to change my hat; I write this section as an admission consultant to advice MBA aspirants.

1. 700-750 GMAT Score. Despite their limitations, standardized tests are objective measures of applicant’s proficiency in basic analytical, problem-solving, and comprehension skills. Education Testing Services (ETS) tinkers with the difficulty level of the standardized tests (both syllabus and format) they administer as upper percentiles get too dense. If you dig into the sample questions of the paper-based tests of 90s, you will not notice questions in permutations and combinations, probability, etc. in the quantitative section. In 2012, the GMAT included Integrated Reasoning in the Analytic Writing Assessment (AWA) section of the test. Since the tests became computer-adaptive in the new millennium, ETS is notorious for recalibrating its algorithm from time to time; penalize more for each wrong answer and/or deduct more points at the start of the test. Unlike its distant cousin, the GRE, the GMAT tests skills that are acquired over a longer period of time, which means your scores do not improve drastically with increased preparation time. Allot about 100 hours prep time and brace for questions that are a few notches more difficult than the ones contained in prep books. I recommend the latest edition of Kaplan’s GMAT 800. If you’re an Indian or Chinese aspirant to MBA programs in the US, expect to score at the 99th percentile in the quantitative section. It’s just that the competition among Indians and Chinese is more fierce in quant aspect of the GMAT. Importantly, you don’t want 770+ scores that may insinuate to the admission committee you’re a geek and not necessarily a prospective business leader–try PhD in business instead. Do know PhD programs are not branded by the school; they are branded by the adviser and research.

2. Application Essays. Most topics revolve around statement of purpose, leadership potential, short- and long-term goals. Essays are an opportunity to showcase applicant’s talents and interests; tell memorable stories and share them with target endorsers so that they can corroborate in their recommendation letters (see #3 below). Do not hire admission consultants to package your essays. If you can’t recite your story, nobody can. Since applicants compete more fiercely and hire professional writers to massage their stories, more top b-schools today have introduced video questions in addition to timed written response questions to hear the actual voice of the applicant than read a polished piece written by a seasoned writer. After completing the video questions, candidates receive a written response question and are given a preset time to draft an answer.

3. Letters of Recommendation. The word “recommendation” means to induce acceptance; it is not a fan letter enumerating a list of positives. Endorsers must identify managerial traits or perhaps leadership potential to convince the admission committee that the applicant is well-suited for the MBA program. The letter must connect past experience to future potential. An endorser, preferably a senior colleague at workplace, who appreciates the value of an MBA and has experience writing effective recommendation letters is a good bet. I was working at Johnson Controls, Inc., Chicago, IL when I targeted US-based MBA programs. Since I could not approach my direct supervisor for a recommendation (he’d be furious if he knew I had plans to quit), I had my client (Illinois MBA) as an anchor reference; most b-schools understand this predicament in a full-time MBA applicant.

4. Undergraduate GPA. Undergraduate transcript with a GPA preferably >3.50, amply indicates applicant’s orientation and focus in formal educational programs. MBA programs do not require or give any preference to students from any particular academic background. Because multiple paths lead to an MBA, I recommend high schoolers to find an industry that interests them to pursue their undergraduate degree. In any case, candidates are required to frame their undergraduate studies as a formative experience that contributed to their professional development and with their current goal of earning an MBA.

5. Volunteering Work. Experience as a volunteer to demonstrate you are a good samaritan and/or any extra curricular activity to establish you do have a life beyond home and work suitably help in conveying your personality. Community involvement declares that you have a larger view of the world. Business schools do not assess candidates’ extracurricular activities based on a numerical scale—five or more acts of demonstrated public selflessness certainly do not guarantee admission—but they’re a vital part of the MBA application process.

6. Networking (optional). I often recommend aspirants to take in MBA events, admission events, and workshops so that you get a chance to impress upon the admission officers, alumni ambassadors to convince them about your focus, seriousness, and determination. If you’re a bad cocktail conversationalist, you may need to quickly learn Schmoozing 101. Like an iceberg, the evidence of caliber and aptitude are below the surface. This is the true irony of your way to MBA success. To be a natural charmer and utter the magic words to attract people, you need to construct some sort of a 60-second commercial, better known as an elevator speech; five or six personal tidbits and intersperse them in your conversation. Negativity, discourtesy, and TMI need to be eschewed. Admission officers are scouting tooth and nail for talent; they remember aspirants whom they meet at such events (that’s what they’re paid for). Also, try to strike a rapport with a current student of the program; probably, someone who comes across as an introvert. Extroverts inflate reality.

7. Evaluative Interview. Top-tier schools engage psychology professionals as admission officers to find out: (1) applicant-school fit; (2) applicant-program fit; (3) authenticity of applicant’s story. As applications have risen, MBA programs have had to ration interview timeslots, so interviews are rarely at the candidate’s discretion. Your chances of being admitted after you turn down a request to interview is practically nullified. Alumni Ambassadors of b-schools often take the role of admission officers to interview, if you live at a place the admission officer can’t meet. As an interviewer, I often ask myself if I want the candidate to be a part of my tribe. The questions I ask: (1) Have you been promoted?; (2) Why do need an MBA?; (3) Describe me a time when you failed; (4) Why should I admit you?; (5) Do you have any questions (my favorite question). I allot as much time and as much value to the quality of questions posed by the candidate.

Truth be told, more b-schools are fishing for MBAs from the same applicant pool. To bring in the best catch, each b-school must position its boat carefully, cast a broad net, and offer more tempting bait on its hook. Consequently, Deans of b-schools and MBA program administrators feel the need to communicate effectively how their MBA program stands differentiated. From my experience of teaching in some of the premier business programs in both the US and around world, I have not found any such differentiation. All b-schools teach differentiation in the very first quarter or trimester, but seldom practice differentiation strategies. Students in the full-time MBA program are all bright, interesting, and fun. Since I teach advanced marketing courses that calls for creative and design assets, I find them to be original and creative like two peas in a pod. The infrastructure is also the same; provides the same set of features and academic quality and support from faculty, administrative quality, and identical supportive services (library, cafeteria). All business programs are accredited as AACSB member institution. Finally, most b-schools also obtain inconceivably vast sums of money (about $150K if you are targeting a top MBA program in the US) to cover tuition and living expenses. Like Tweedledum and Tweedledee–same of a sameness.

The scale I use to measure an MBA’s expectations from a b-school, consistent with five listed factors why students enroll in an MBA program, I believe aspirants should look at the following:

1. Finding employment in progressive-minded, innovative organizations;
2. Employment offered by management consulting firms;
3. Internship opportunities in summer or winter;
4. Starting salary range ($90K—$150K)
5. Effective career center (providing both opportunities and knowledge that contributes to finding a meaningful and rewarding job);
6. Number of C-suite executives of the alma mater;
7. Role of alumni with b-school and career center;
8. Number of participating organizations in on-campus career fairs.

To verify the reliability for each dimension, I assess using Cronbach’s alpha (vary from 0.7 to 0.94). All items were significantly related to their specified constructs, verifying the posited relationships among the indicators and constructs. Construct reliabilities range from 0.77 to 0.93, both exceeding the minimum recommended level of 0.60. A complementary measure is the average variance extracted, which directly shows the amount of variance that is captured by the construct in relation to the amount of variance due to measurement error. However, examination of career quality levels that help MBA aspirants understand satisfaction levels of business program offerings were restricted to those MBA programs in the United States (listed below). MBAs go by the name of the b-school, not by the name of the university, so accordingly, I’ve listed the top-tier MBA programs in alphabetic order and grouped them region-wise.

North America
Anderson School of Management
Booth School of Business*
Columbia Business School*
Darden School of Business
Fuqua School of Business
Goizueta Business School
Graduate School of Business (Stanford)*
Graduate School of Management (Yale)*
Harvard Business School*
Haas School of Business
INCAE
Johnson School of Business
Kellogg School of Management
Kenan-Flagler School of Business
Marshall School of Business
McCombs School of Business
Ross School of Business
Sauder School of Business
Schulich School of Business
Simon School of Business
Sloan School of Management
Stern School of Business
Thunderbird School of Global Management
Tuck School of Business*
Wharton School of Management*

Europe
Copenhagen Business School
ESADE Business School
ESCP Europe
HEC School of Management
IE Business School
IESE Business School
INSEAD*
IMD
Judge Business School
London Business School*
Rotterdam School of Management
Said Business School
SDA Bocconi

Indian Subcontinent
Department of Management Sciences (IIT-M)
Faculty of Management Studies
Great Lakes Institute of Management
Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, and Lucknow)
Indian School of Business
Jamlalal Bajaj Institute of Management
Loyola Institute of Business Administration
MICA
Norsee Monjee Institute of Management Sciences
Shailesh Mehta School of Management (IIT-B)
SP Jain Institute of Management and Research
Xavier Labor Research Institute

Asia-Pacific
Asian Institute of Management
Australian Graduate School of Management
CEIBS
Henley Business School
Hitotsubashi University
Hong Kong University of Science and technology
INSEAD (Singapore)
Macquarie Graduate School of Management
Mannheim Business School
Melbourne Business School
Nanyang Business School
National University of Singapore
University of Hong Kong
University of Queensland
Yonsei University

The mother tongue of business is the English language. This gives b-schools in Anglo cultures a clear leeway. The distinctive American approach to MBA education has only been duplicated in most other MBA programs around the globe. For this reason, since the turn of the new millennium, many of these non-US b-schools seek a guardian US b-school so that they can improve their educational environment or community concerned with the pursuit of scholarship and research. The robust brand image of the championing US b-school could rub on the substitute. This symbiotic partnership also permits student exchange programs.

Not only in business, but in other fields the US leads the world in original research. For instance, every faculty out of 245 professors at the Wharton School who teach 1,600 MBA students holds a PhD, and pursues cutting-edge research in their fields from finance to consumer behavior. The Economist attributes the hegemony of US business education to its size and history as among their advantages. “They help them achieve the financial clout to attract the best professors and students and to build the finest facilities.” Career services at U.S. b-schools continuously receive stellar marks from most survey respondents of leading international business journals. Despite carrying the highest price tag–something not as universally celebrated as an advantage–the brightest and the most creative students desire to study in American MBA programs. One can also argue that the huge endowments, which are often used to subsidize tuition, also help US programs attract the top of the crop.

The same is true of a professor teaching in an American b-school. I get a red carpet rolled where I go. The same cannot be said of a colleague teaching in an European or Asian b-school; practically irrealizable for a professor teaching in Europe or Asia to get a ticket to teach in American soil.

Harsh Realities

Let’s suppose the MBA aspirant meets the admission eligibility, secures admit at one of the listed top-tier programs, and successfully endured the academic rigor by turning in 20-page reports interpreting financial statements or presenting 20-slide presentations on market analyses of a startup. There are 50,000 MBAs graduating each year from these top-tier business schools looking to prove they’re a force for good in the world. I have found with my own MBA students in my professorial experience that many of these newly-minted MBAs stagnate in their post-MBA adventures. As a consultant, I find some MBAs become dissatisfied about consulting life in a few months, which was their dream job only a few months ago. Some of them even struggle finding the right employment, leave alone changing careers or switching industries.

It’s an onerous subscription to get propelled into adult life in an increasingly entropic world, especially when there’s no one telling you what’s right for you. You’ve been schooled for twenty years being told what to learn, how to think, and when to show up, and then you find yourself in a b-school to explore possibilities what you can become. In fact, b-school is the antithesis of such self-discovery. It’s acceptable to be lost in your teens and early tweens; it’s a time when everyone is figuring passion and purpose of life, unless of course you’re a sportsperson, model, or an actor. It is dimwitted to defray $150K to attend a b-school just to put off the hard knocks of figuring out where you belong in the competitive workforce.

As an armchair philosopher, I often find myself contemplating the attitudinal states of mind that influence successful business behavior and career choice. After all, cognitive psychology informs us that attitudes and personality types play a major role in learning, behavior, and information processing. Perhaps further research on these antecedents can shed light on reforming MBA education; with appropriate material, and better evaluation methods to discover if the material presented is consistent with such attitudinal states. Again, relying solely on my casual empirical observations, impediments to securing lucrative post-MBA employment does not entirely depend on positive academic experience, but correlates with attitude and personality conflict. Though the following underlying factors have no bearing in admission selection process nor in prospective job interviews, I believe the MBA aspirant needs to self-examine if the MBA program is right for him or her.

1. Do you tell remarkable stories to captivate audiences?
2. How engaged are you when you listen?
3. Can you build consensus, persuade individuals or groups of people?
4. Do you like solving problems?
5. What is your disposition to ambiguity and/or change?
6. Do you spark up a new conversation or idea?
7. Are you intellectually curious, passionate?

Despite all the buzz, hype, and random cynicism, not all of today’s CEOs and senior executives are armed with an MBA. In fact high school diploma and J.D. are popular terminal degrees among CEOs. Further, not all MBAs necessarily evolve into CEOs or senior executive positions. I have come to believe that specific and private ulterior motives on attitude and personality align more perfectly than in the spirit of higher business skills and management qualifications.

MBAs should not fit in; they should stand out. It’s not just your indelible footprints, but it’s the galvanizing footprints of those who follow the MBA. Is it in you? If it is, then toss your resignation letter after you have cinched admit at one of the aforementioned MBA programs. Should the stars align and you choose marketing electives in your MBA, I might teach Brands/Branding in your final trimester.

Cited References

1. Bruce, G.D. (2010). “Exploring the Value of MBA Degrees: Students’ Experiences in Full-Time, Part-Time, and Executive MBA Programs,” Journal of Education for Business, 85: 38-44.
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