The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is becoming as common as the old BA, or Bachelor of Arts. But do we need MBAs? Do they actually serve any purpose? And do they actually help careers?
Three years ago, I did a blog entry suggesting that most executives feel it doesn’t prepare people for the real world. Now blogger and workplace commentator Penelope Trunk says that MBA’s are a waste of time and money. She says that no business school can teach you to be a good entrepreneur and that apart from a few really high powered positions in blue chip companies, the MBA will not give you the kind of job you want. She also says it doesn’t increase your earning power, it’s useless for most jobs and makes you look desperate. And in any case, going to business school to pursue an MBA just puts off the inevitable. Eventually you have to grow up.
The other issue with an MBA is that it’s a big commitment. A full time course means going about 18 months without income and doing it part time means you can forget about getting early nights or spending weekends chilling out and having a good time for several years. And it’s expensive. At top level business schools, like Melbourne Business School, it’s $55,000. How much of that, through lost income and the fee, would you recoup when you are out working again?
Technology entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki, who is always good to read, was scathing when asked by Forbes
what he thought an MBA was worth. “Probably about a negative $250,000.’’ he said. “I have an MBA, and I was once a young college graduate. I don’t think an MBA matters very much for starting a company. A much better educational background is an engineering degree. You can always hire MBAs, but if you don’t have the ability to conceptualise and deliver a product, you’ve got nothing. By the way, the founders of Apple Computer, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google don’t have MBAs, but I digress.”
One of the world’s most prominent management thinkers Henry Mintzberg says MBAs attract the wrong kind of people and in any case, don’t produce great managers. Writing in Fast Company, Mintzberg says. “Granted, this isn’t fully the fault of your school. Nothing personal, but full-time MBA programs by their nature attract many of the wrong people – too impatient and analytical, with little experience in management itself. These may be fine traits for students, but they can be tragically ill-suited for managers. Conventional MBA programs then compound the error by giving the wrong impression of management: that managers are important people disconnected from the daily work of making products and producing services; that managing is largely about decision making through analysis; that managers pronounce deliberate strategies for everyone else to implement; and worst of all, that by sitting still in a classroom for a couple of years, you are now ready to manage anything. Sure, you’ve taken courses called ‘management’ and ‘strategy’. But these were about looking in from the outside. The truth is, no one can become a manager in a classroom. Management is not a profession, nor is it science. It is a practice that depends mostly on craft and significantly on art. Craft is learned by experience. Art can, of course, be admired in a classroom – think of all the visionaries you read about in cases. But voyeurism is not management, either, nor does it develop creativity.”
But then, you can argue that getting an MBA trains you to think differently. It takes you out of your comfort zone and connects you with different people and ideas. And besides, education is one of the best investments anyone can make and unlike shares and property, it doesn’t lose value.
Question from our best business coaching seminar, Do you think an MBA is worth it? If you’ve gone out and got one, has it helped? Are you thinking of doing one? Why? Or do you think it’s over rated? Is it really a waste of time and money?