The ultimate yardstick for measuring your success in business is, of course, your business. Since their establishment, business schools have successfully trained generations of MBAs who have gone on to become successful C-suite executives, partners of management consulting firms, managing directors of investment banks and fund managers. However, very few have businesses of their own. MBAs are mostly good managers, but not all are entrepreneurs or business magnates. They are successful climbers of corporate ladders, but not rock stars who can bring disruptive forces that change businesses for the better. Business schools do not have a good record in training entrepreneurs or picking winners.
In this regard, business schools and business education are an embarrassing disappointment.
It is tempting to resort to the wisdom of the age - “A students teach; B students work for C students.” There is some truth in this, but in the age of knowledge, this may no longer be as relevant. Before Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard College he was on track to graduate magna cum laude. The founders of Google and Yahoo dropped out of their schools to found their companies, but they were in the PhD programme at Stanford University, working on a groundbreaking discovery that yielded unlimited commercial potential. They are highly educated and business-savvy, but there is no trace of business school education on their résumés.
Nonetheless, to say that business knowledge is less important than technological breakthroughs could not be further from the truth. It is generally believed that the first decline of Apple in the late 1980s and 1990s was attributable to the ousting of Steve Jobs engineered by John Sculley, a seasoned executive Jobs had recruited from PepsiCo. But contrary to popular belief, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and designer of the legendary Apple II computer, actually attributed the success of later generations of Apple computers to the skills of senior managers such as Sculley. Business education, therefore, should be as important to executives, if not more important, than technical expertise.
The questions are: where do these entrepreneurs receive their business education, and who are their professors? There is a limit as to what anyone can achieve by their own reading. The vacuum can be easily filled by venture capitalists who invest in entrepreneurs, providing them with capital, advice and coaching. Mike Markkula provided Steve Jobs and his team with much-needed guidance when Apple was in its infancy. Peter Thiel and Sean Parker were early advisers to Mark Zuckerberg. The gold standard of MBA education, a two-year full-time programme, may be too time-consuming and inflexible to meet the needs of up and coming business stars.
In order to remain relevant, business schools are reinventing themselves. Some offer more flexible means of delivery, such as online or part-time programmes. European schools are well-known for their one-year programmes. But top business schools are reluctant to revamp their two-year MBA programmes. Despite this, they do incorporate elements of entrepreneurship in their education, push students into joining start-ups, and expand their short-term executive training offerings.
If you are pretty sure you are not going to start your own business, why should the re-positioning of business schools be relevant to you? Firstly, the ability of business professors to respond to emerging business trends reflects their business acumen. Secondly, as I argued in my previous article, your network may be the most important asset you can acquire at business school. Even if you are not Mark Zuckerberg you may meet the next Zuckerberg at business school, and you could be the next Eduardo Saverin.
Originally posted on Education Post.