Thursday, December 02, 2004

On MBAs

I've been reading Henry Mintzberg's Managers Not MBAs recently and many, though not all, of his points resonate.

Before I start I better state my knowledge on this subject. First, I don't have an MBA - I studied for a Masters in Strategic Human Resource Management to gain a deep knowledge within my area of expertise. I have, however, been in charge of business school relations, MBA recruitment, and have reviewed employer sponsorship of MBAs for staff. I have headed recruitment for a management consultancy and have monitored performance of MBAs in several firms.

First, let's start by a two simple questions; Would I recommend hiring MBAs? Would I recommend sponsoring a member of your staff who wishes to do one?

On hiring MBAs: MBAs present a whole range of skills, and for many recruiters what someone has done before business school is more important than what they learnt at business school. Unfortunately (and this also applies to many graduate hiring schemes) there is a large disconnect between the candidates presumed worth and what they actually bring. If it the technical, analytical skills that you demand then places like Rotterdam's Erasmus school provides 'little business experience' MSc.s in business which will give the candidate just as much technical expertise. If you want exceptional performers in a small space I suggest going to any of the Indian Institute of Management - hey and that way you only need to be on campus for a morning and you'll get the people you want. Both routes will give you the raw skills at a cheaper price. If you want some experience as well don't judge an MBA against other MBAs, judge them against someone with experience who is asking for the same salary. Get the best person for the money.

For many businesses the best time to hire an MBA is for their second job after business school. With a bit of good luck they will have encountered some difficulties, had their school fees paid by a consultancy or bank and come to you with energy, ambition and a big serving of reality.

On sponsoring MBAs: If one of your bright high performers comes to you and asks if you will sponsor him/her (usually a him) to go to LBS / Insead / Harvard etc. I would suggest the following. Ask why they think it will benefit the employer and how they would write a business case for doing so. They will struggle.

In my experience there is only one instance when sponsoring an MBA could justify the cost, and that is when the course is a part-time course split over a few years with a pay-back clause in the agreement. This can work as an employee retention tool - you'll probably have them for at least the duration of the course.

Many of those that I have met and interviewed have gone to do an MBA because they feel stuck - they've probably taken a career direction which was wrong or as likely, they aren't performing in your meritocracy as well as they think they should. Those high performers who get promotions on a regular basis, who you would risk putting on your most important projects, they won't be the ones knocking on your door. Those looking for easy solutions will.

A full review of the book will come later.