At times, I hear from people who say that many subjects taught at business schools are irrelevant to career advancement. The usual “culprits” are competitive strategy and strategic management, and the last person who aired such a complaint to me was actually my secretary. There are clearly some misperceptions here if students are not getting what they want despite spending a substantial sum for their courses. To see where the real problem lies, let me go back to the beginning.
The first master of business administration (MBA) degree was introduced by Harvard Business School in 1908, eight years after the first graduate school of business - the Tuck School of Business - was established at another Ivy League institution, Dartmouth College. The first MBA programme was heavily influenced by the management science of Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is generally considered the first management consultant and was a professor at Tuck. Even though Taylor died in 1915, we are still living in his shadow, since the structure and philosophy he established for business education has outlived his management science.
From the outset, MBA programmes have been designed to address the pressing issues faced by senior executives and their consultants. As the business world constantly changes, MBA programmes have adjusted correspondingly. Entrepreneurial education, e-commerce and emerging markets are now popular courses, but were little known in leading business schools two decades ago. So, even though MBA graduates will not become C-suite executives overnight, they do generally have the skills needed to join leading consulting firms and investment banks and to offer constructive advice to senior executives of Fortune 500 companies. They are in a position to work their way up and, in due course, become leaders with a mandate to effect change at boardroom level and beyond.
Exemplifying this, Harvard Business School has long been regarded as a training ground for future recruits of consultancy firm McKinsey. It is no coincidence that the case teaching method invented and made famous by Harvard closely resembles the typical approach to a consulting case or investment banking engagement. Subjects like competitive strategy and M&A (merger and acquisition) financing prepare students for such challenges and equip them with important skill sets which consultants and bankers may use on a daily basis. Such skills may not be as useful for managers of manufacturing firms or SMEs but, remember, the job of leading business schools is to design a modern MBA which caters to the likely vocational needs of the majority of their students.
The choice of MBA programmes is now wider than ever, so candidates should carefully consider the structure and content of available courses and select one which best suits their individual needs and ambitions. Investing in a programme which is not right for you – and having persistent doubts about - is not the way to go.
Originally published on Education Post.