This month’s edition of Canadian Business Magazine features an article in Business Education by Ken Smith, a Professor at the School of Business at Guelph University.
The article is entitled: The MBA`s Last Gasp
Mr. Smith calls into question the MBA as it currently exists. To be frank – I agree with him in many ways.
Here`s the response I sent to Canadian Business:
Ken Smith has written an article this week for “Canadian Business” Magazine which proclaims the MBA is an out-dated product. That it needs a reinvention.
Mr. Smith, an MBA himself tells us (in typical MBA fashion) that that the product life cycle of this graduate degree is in the phase of “Decline”.
He notes 3 observations which support his conclusion:
1. There are lots of MBA students and programs out there. These grads have all been taught the same things. And yet, by and large, even if they know they are contributing to negative business activity (a la pre-2009 financial markets) they go along with their activity anyways (let’s not question the boss).
2. Undergraduate degrees are approaching the level of sophistication of the MBA. Students want more from a graduate degree program.
3. The world has changed in many ways since the invention of the MBA program and traditional curriculums (even case studies) are lagging far behind.
As a current MBA candidate (full time at that), I must defend… Mr. Smith, at least in his initial remarks and ultimate conclusion.
His observations are valid, if not in every case, then in many. There are many stagnant programs, and many more stagnant graduates and stagnant students.
However I differ strongly in my opinion of the re-invention of the MBA.
It is true, as Mr. Smith contents that the future of the MBA exists not in the stodgy old traditional programs, but those whose flexibility can offer leadership into a new era. But it will not be the schools that usher in a new generation of dynamic business graduates. It will be the students.
No school can keep up with the pace of business and the rate of change in its processes today. It is not feasible to expect an academic approach to “social gaming human resources tools”, or the business of “email classification and encryption” (to use two Canadian business start-up examples: Rypple and Titus).
The advantage the MBA offers, even as it is today, is the opportunity to connect and work with peers and local (and even global) businesses in an environment that leaves you free to innovate, collaborate, and even fail. Your horizons are unlimited as you undertake a program of education, and it is up to the student to expand those horizons themselves. As a student, I am the one who needs to be pushing my program to the limits of the new business environment, and forging a degree which will serve me in the industry I choose. It should not be the other way around – a school trying to educate me into an industry – even one I choose or to be a sheep in the existing program and classes.
The MBA student must take the opportunities presented to them in case work, research and projects in their stodgy old classes and apply them to today’s world. Or better yet, apply them to the world that will exist in the future when they exit their program with a degree in one hand and a resume in the other.
If the students are smart, and take this approach, they will be the ones with the jobs and the capital to re-invest (hopefully) in the future students of business at the school where they themselves made their mark. If the school is smart, it will adapt and learn from these students, and make preparations to adapt and learn from the next ones.
On an ending note; the image degradation suffered by the MBA by the behaviour of some of the professionals who hold the designation is fair. We should not shift all the blame to their bosses before the bubble burst.
We also cannot expect that the schools will repair that image through courses in ethics, governance and social responsibility, although this helps. Once again in this case it us up to us, both students and alumni, to initiate change.
Students across Canada have begun just that, and launched a program for collaborative stewardship and peer accountability through the Canadian MBA Oath. (www.canadianmbaoath.com)
Thank you, Mr. Smith, for raising the bar for us. Let’s try to take that breath, not as a gasp, but as he hopes, the first breath in a renewal.
What do you think? Is it time for some renewal? Who will be driving it?
Respond in the comments: It’s cool to share!