Friday, May 7, 2010

Business School - is it more a business or a school?

When I was facing the decision whether to do or not to do my MBA, I obviously did a lot of research focusing on ROI, opportunity costs, softer factors like self-gratification and prestige, etc. Now that I am a student of one of those schools (and it does warm my heart to know that Wall Street Journal names it #1 in accelerated MBA programs :), it is time to look critically at what management education is all about.

First, the cost. I understand that it is expensive to run a business in the center of a fashionable la-di-da richy-bitchy posh neighborhood. It is expensive to keep a host of PhDs and guest professors flying in and out (though some professors do confide that their services are not that greatly valued in monetary terms). It must cost a fortune to do the sort of advertising and recruitment campaigns that we observe. But... that is so minute (did not want to use the hackneys peanuts here) compared to what the students need to fork out. And the more business schools get attacked for bringing on all the possible plagues of the humanity starting with Enron and finishing with the financial crisis of 2008, the higher the fees. In the past couple of months we have seen many schools changing deans (or CEOs, in line with the latest trends), including Yale, Harvard and Booth. Does it mean more changes and more investments? Something prompts me, that is going to land heavily on the student's pocket.

Second, the concept. These days we hear wails of penitence coming from all directions. Professors are trying to convince the public that they are genuinely sorry for teaching the students how to identify failures in the economic system --- and exploit them. In one voice they solemnly proclaim to provide a more ethical, sustainable-development oriented and socially responsible educational insights. Sounds great on the surfaced, but... changing the curriculum will not that easily change the culture and the essence of business schools. It is like with the major law of retribution - if I suffered a loss, I want a threefold gain. So most MBA students feel entitled to exploit the system, just like they paraded through the Rubicons of admissions, excruciating workgroups and presentations, sneers of prudes and snobs, and finally - the fun of searching a job and trying to prove to everyone that you are not a camel and actually learnt a lot in class and now a much better person so now you are worth much (emphasis on MUCH) more. Just out of curiosity, check out the FT 2010 ranking and weighted post-MBA salaries.

Moving on... delivery. How effective are educational methods? In principle, it should work, but I feel in my (very short - only two weeks so far) experience that something is missing. Is it a different style of teaching? Maybe the student body composition? Overall academic environment? I know that it is tough to leave a well-paid job, a nice house and a beautiful country (my case) and move into a small apartment, back to the student's desk facing (imho unreasonable) demands on my time and efforts as if there were at least twice as many hours in one single day. I am not ready to pass a verdict on this one, will give it a term or two, so the judges are still out...

Some thoughts on job search. Here really I will need some help and advice. In my career I worked a lot with headhunters and recruitment agencies, so I know the rules or the game. However, I never targeted MBAs. I hired a couple of them and - I should say - have not been disappointed, but I have a very limited understanding of how the MBA market works. Luckily, and here I am grateful to IE, on Monday I will have my first career day with Daniel Porot, who is an acclaimed expert in the field of career change and executive recruitment, so look out for more to come.

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