The so-called debate on management at the Economist is helped by knowing where the publication is in the economic firmament:
It takes an editorial stance which is supportive of free trade, globalisation, free immigration and some socially liberal causes. It targets highly educated readers and claims an audience containing many influential executives and policy-makers.
Knowing that, the idea of such a debate in itself would provoke grunts of dismissal in many grizzled old businessmen. My own stance, pre-debate, was that experience is vital, that one rises in an organization commensurate with experience, that one’s mind needs to be open to new technologies and ideas [in-service education] and that the MBA or whatever it’s called is not in itself the problem but the “qualification or nothing” and tick-box mentality today is.
There needs to be some sort of qualification, just as there was an apprenticeship system for a long time but a hell of a lot of that is learning on the job. In teaching, that’s how we did it. An increasing portion of the time was spent actually out there on the job and thus the influence of supervising teachers was profound, particularly where the views of those and of the lecturers coincided. Virtually the whole of the last year was out on the job and in my eyes, that was an excellent thing.
Naturally, I’m dead against parachutism, particularly when the wrong sort of people of low, indoctrinated quality are parachuted in to somewhere they have not been trained for and are not good enough to handle anyway.
Excerpts from the “debate”:
# But one cannot teach the craft to people who have never managed—who lack the experience. So MBA programmes mostly fall back on what they can do: rely on the science, in the form of theory—both general analysis and particular techniques. And so too, unfortunately, do many of their graduates. Those who believe they have learned management by sitting still in an MBA classroom are a menace to society. Mostly they have learned about the functions of business. But marketing + finance + accounting ≠ management.
# A 1990 book published by Harvard listed 19 of its superstar CEOs. We tracked their records to 2003 (the results are reprinted in my book). Ten were total failures and four others performed questionably at best. This offers no definitive proof but is certainly worth investigating.
On the other hand:
# Tuck and the other leading schools place their graduates in an amazing array of the world’s businesses. The remarkable career options of the 25-30 year olds who make up the vast majority of students in full-time programmes is powerful affirmation that the market places a high value on the skills of our graduates.
Against that, look at the state of businesses in the UK today.
# Certainly, no serious scientist will make a sweeping claim that MBAs are “responsible” for the decline of the US economy. However, their rising power and prestige, which overlapped that relative decline, may also be tied into the other major trends over that period: the move from a manufacturing based economy to a service economy, the massive transfer of jobs from the US to developing countries and the massive tranfer of wealth – not from the US to other countries, but within the US, from many to a (very) few. I submit that MBAs were and are involved closely with these trends, and that they benefited from them more than just about anyone else.
# Having been through a good business school and experienced a range of roles in manufacturing and engineering I am convinced that ‘who you know rather than what you know’ and ‘being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time’ has considerably more influence on your subsequent career than your business school qualification.
I’m going to bring a case study or two in. In Russia, I had a private client who was a girl of 20 – she’s the one who locked herself out of her flat on the balcony and called for rescue, who was fairly incompetent at most things, as distinct from her many years older sister who ran three positions plus a family.
The younger said to me one day she wanted to be a manager. In what field? Didn’t matter – she wanted the bit of paper saying she was “a manager”. That’s where my own unease over the state of management began. On the other hand, there was another client who had been running businesses for years and making money. Now he thought he’d get a qualification. It was a struggle but he did.
Cut to the local railways firm near here and they’ve finally got rid of a parachutee who had been ruining everything for everyone, hated by staff, young, inexperienced and hopeless but very demanding that everyone toe her line and she brooked no criticism [that is, input from line managers, whom she feared]. The public always copped the consequences of her and other parachutees’ decisions.
I think you get the idea.
So, what value an MBA and what should be done on an MBA course? Should there be some way to bring in talent versus those who could afford it?
Filed under: Politics & economics