With or without MBA?

There is a quite an interesting debate going on in Economist right now trying to find an answer to the question whether or not the economy would be better off without MBA students. I am not that sure if this is the right question to ask or are the poor MBAs the only ones to blame in everything that has gone wrong in economy. But something in Henry Mintzberg’s (who is pro i.e. against MBA) arguments vibrates stronger for me. Here are some of them:

…companies would be better managed and the economy would be better off. Don’t get me wrong. It is not that the MBA is irrelevant. Rather, it is highly relevant, in a negative sense: it represents a form of training that distorts rather than develops the practice of management.

It is quite simple: conventional MBA programmes train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.

Management is predominantly a practice, not a science or a profession. It is a craft, rooted in experience. The best of it is also art, formed by visions and insights.

Conventional MBA programmes train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.

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.

Professional training, such as for medics, is generic—an appendectomy is an appendectomy. Management, however, is rooted in context. It requires a deep understanding of the industry, the enterprise, the people, the processes and the products.

But one thing is evident: many of the most dysfunctional practices in business today have been promoted vigorously in the business schools: leadership disconnected from the practice of managing; an obsession with shareholder value that has brought companies the obscenities of CEO compensation and all that destructive “downsizing”—read bloodletting—at the drop of a share price; human beings considered to be “human resources”; companies mesmerised with measuring; the list goes on.

And yes, I do have an MBA.

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  • Justin

    I think the anti-MBA crowd falsely assume that MBAs are taught some standard process and then follow it blindly. What the MBA taught, for me, was how to approach problems and how to look at problems from many different perspectives.

  •  And yes, I think, the approach is excactly the problem. Quite an often the world doesn’t round according to the Chicaco school of view to the economy and MBA forgots some basic things about human beings.