There has been a flurry of publications recently blaming business schools for the mess the world economy is in (see here and here and here, for example). This is an increasingly popular sentiment and some have held it for a long while, such as Prof. Henry Minzberg , author of Managers not MBAs and Strategy Bites Back.

I would like to offer my point of view, which is only based on my experience in the MBA program, years of technology management and constant exposure to numerous organizations as a management consultant.

Point #1. Base rates ignored

Sure, Thain had MBA and so did Skilling. MBA= failure, then? The truth is, there is a high proportion of executives with MBA degrees out there. Degrees from the best schools offer better employment opportunities and those we are more likely to know of when they blow up. If just one failure of any sort occurs at that level, the person to blame is likely to have an MBA, much more likely than a randomly chosen person on the street.

Point #2 Character and experience are built by more than business schools

We develop as individuals as we walk through our lives in interaction with the parents,  school, work and living environment. Our belief system is influenced by values instilled in us by our parents, by the culture we are surrounded with, by education and by other factors.

So, we might as well blame kindergarten for the failures of corporate executives. If the case of wrongdoing, if the crooks parents failed to instill in the person what is right and what is wrong, how could MBA degree fix that? Why single out business schools ?

Point #3 Expectations of MBA degree holders are off

It is naive to believe that anyone with two years of work experience can emerge after two years of business school as being ripe for a management position. MBA from leading business school is a fantastic education on various aspects of the enterprise, but it is no substitute for experience. Surprisingly, it also escapes employers  that people enter business schools with different baggage and intentions: some have spent 2 years drawing blueprints or formatting reports, some have founded and successfully sold businesses and some have run departments in large companies  for a decade. There is no such thing as a typical MBA grad. A former colleague of mine was offered an entry level management position after 8 years in the industry and having already held a more senior position. The reason? “This is what we offer to all new MBA grads…”  This ought to change.

Point #4 Business schools have some work to do

Henry Mintzberg is right in his assessment that rigour prevails over relevance in business school curriculum. With a typical professor having little experience in the “real world” outside of the academia, it is difficult to expect different outcomes. Business schools definitely have some work to do in this area.

In fact, Rotman School of Management, which I was fortunate to attend, has long recognized the shortcomings of the traditional way of teaching business disciplines siloed not unlike respective business functions in an organization. Roger Martin’s concept of integrative thinking, which encourages integration of different disciplines (marketing, finance, strategy, etc.)  has led the school’s curriculum in the past decade. Students are encouraged to question established models and methodologies and appreciate the unpredictable nature of the world.

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