Archive for May, 2010

China a new hotbed for MBAs

Only one generation ago studying market-based economics and business would have been unthinkable in the People’s Republic of China. Now the country is a hotbed for business education in Asia and its top tier business schools are fast climbing the world’s MBA rankings. Out of the 40 elite B-schools in Asia and Australia listed in the QS Global Top Business Schools 2009 five schools are located in Beijing or Shanghai.

The A-list of China’s top business schools today are part of the country’s most prestigious universities. In the top league are Tsinghua University’s School of Management, Peking University (PKU)’s Guanghua School of Management and Fudan University’s School of Management. Their challengers are a number of private schools, still few in numbers, with CEIBS and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business being the leading independent players.

With the vast need for educated business managers in the Chinese speaking world, it would seem that this proliferation of top business schools in China and the quality of those courses will increase. Despite this there are some reservations in some MBA quarters that Chinese business schools are dropping the age limit, and therefore the amount of work experience that their students have. If this is the case, candidates applying to Chinese schools need to take that into account. The more experienced your classmates are, the more you will learn from them.

Specialised MBA? Or not?

By definition, the MBA is a general management qualification. For some experts, like Professor Simon Stockley at Imperial College Business School, “the term ‘specialised MBAs’ is an oxymoron.” After all, most MBA candidates go to to the degree in order to learn the overall general practices of business in its entirety, from HR to operations, marketing to finance. This ‘helicopter view’ of how business works offers flexibility and allows the incumbent to work in a vast array of different organisations. It is, as they say in French, the raison d’etre of most MBA courses.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of specialised MBAs. Famous ones include the Wine Business Management MBA in Bordeaux, the Football Industries MBA at Liverpool and the Hospitality Management MBA at Essec in France. And there is nothing wrong with any of these courses per se.

But, and there is always a but, you will want to be pretty darn sure that that is what you want to do with most of the rest of your career. Specialising early will limit you. It will be much harder to go to a recruiter in a big finance house and answer the question “Why are you, with your specialised Wine Management MBA, applying to work here?”

It won’t exclude you, but it will narrow down your options. And that, it seems to most MBA experts, is missing the whole point.

MBA admissions consultants. Is it cheating?

The temperature is rising. The competition is hotting up (that’s a weird expression, hotting up… I’ve never liked it and won’t use it again unless someone can come up with an explanation as to why we say hotting up instead of heating up).

Anyway, as a result, there has been a proliferation of MBA admissions consultancies in recent years, each claiming to make it easier, faster, better to get into the Harvard, Wharton, INSEAD or London Business School of your choice, followed by a lifetime of vast earnings, luxury and internal satisfaction.

But where is the line drawn between sound advice, which most reputable admissions consultants offer, and cheating, which some disreputable ones offer? There are those who employ a team of MBA experts to pen your essays for you, to get you into the school of your choice, and to doctor your application so that it is, for all intents and purposes, failsafe.

Do not go this route, honest reader. You will be found out. It may not be necessarily in the admissions process, though 95% of MBA admissions people claim to be able to spot a doctored application very quickly. It may not be at the job application stage, though recruiters are very savvy when it comes to spotting discrepancies in your applications. But it will happen. And then the name of the school at the top of your MBA certification won’t be worth the ink used to print it.

There are myriad business schools, catering for all kinds of backgrounds and skill-sets. This blogger recommends that the best route to satisfaction is the honest one, the one where you are the right fit for the right school, where the right professors develop the right skills. This school may be one of the absolute top-tier schools. But then again, it may not. And reputable admission consultants will be the ones that try and help you ascertain which of those schools are the best to suit you.

New Harvard Business School Dean is cause for applause

Professor Nitin NohriaThe appointment of a new Harvard dean with a background in leadership and ethics is a significant appointment, and one that follows a movement I noted in articles some years ago. For the grand old dame of business education to take such a visible move, notifying the world that is has taken on concerns about ethics,  shows a boldness that most people would not necessarily associate with the world’s most conservative school.  In light of recent criticism, such as the Phillip Delves Broughton book “What they teach you at Harvard Business School,” which was a fairly incisive criticism of the author’s perceived ethics of greed at HBS, to numerous articles blaming business schools like Harvard for the recession, HBS has had a harder than usual time at the hands of the public and media lately. Perhaps fairly.

There was ample opportunity for Harvard Business School to ignore the world’s – or at least the west’s – movement towards a more ethical way of teaching business education. There must have been numerous candidates and a sizeable shortlist for the position. Though I am not party to the discussions, I think we can assume the appointment would have caused major controversy within the corridors of Harvard itself with a lot of disgruntled opponents. But the school has stood its ground in light of the bare facts. The typical MBA student, as QS has noted in editorials going back some years, is far more interested in ethics and leadership and corporate social responsibility than ever before. The most recent QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey  and other research shows that candidates are making their business school choices and MBA graduates their career choices increasingly on perceived ethical standpoints. Harvard could have, but did not, choose to ignore this.

The dean-elect has not begun his work yet and it remains to be seen what changes he will instigate and and how quickly. One can only hope that criticism of his appointment, such as a recent letter in the FT, is based on genuine business fears from the hard-nosed business types who are just as entitled to their criticisms as I am to mine. To me the idea that “Asian business tigers” prowling the Pacific Rim are licking their lips at the utter demise of the American economy due to the appointment seems to me moderate hysteria. Let it remain to be seen whether Harvard turns out “touchy-feelies” from the school and then, even if this is the case, let’s see whether or not such acceptance of modern international and ethical values is such a bad thing after all.

Funding easiest for European MBAs, experts say

It’s the biggest dilemna facing prospective MBA students at the moment. One source, from a top 20 business school in Europe, even described it as a ticking time bomb. And what is it? Funding your course.

Simply put, the MBA world was awash with cash a few years ago. Loans, scholarships, company sponsorships, all sorts of avenues were available. It’s trickier now, yet course fees have barely changed, leaving a gap between those able to pay for their MBA courses (and the high return on investment this represents) and those who are struggling to find the necessary fees up front.

Deans Talk, a blog featuring the deans of IE Business School in Spain and Tuck in The USA, suggests that Europe is easier to find funds than elsewhere. Check it out:  http://www.deanstalk.net/deanstalk/2010/05/raise-your-game-by-going-to-the-continent-funding.html

MBA or Masters?

A big question this, that I get asked a lot. Should you do an MBA or a Masters in, perhaps, Finance of International Business or Accountancy even?

1) MBAs require usually 3-8 years of work experience, in some kind of management capacity. Masters degrees don’t.

2) MBAs are a general management degree, learning holistically about how businesses work. Masters degrees are more focussed and targeted at expertise in one field.

3) Therefore, if your interests are in management within a company, or perhaps to follow an entrepreneurial route, look at the MBA. If you want to specialise in an area, and take that route to its interesting and well-paid end, consider the Masters.

4) Salaries currently suggest that MBAs are better paid than those with masters after four years of work experience. However, this does not necessarily hold true throughout a person’s career. If high salary is all you’re after, take a think about it. Otherwise, do what most people do and follow the path that interests you the most. The rewards will be far greater.

MBAs need women

Diversity is the buzzword on almost all MBA programs. You can learn from the professors of course, but the learning MBA candidates get from their peers is the most valuable part, most alumni say. So to interact with people from the widest possible background gives the widest possible range of experience.

Having averaged at about 33% for a number of years, the number of female MBA applicants and GMAT test-takers peaked at over 40% for the first time, in 2009. More and more schools, such as IE BS in Spain, Rouen BS in France and organisations such as QS are offering scholarships to women only, at various levels of education.

Florence Barkats, a student of London Business School, believes that “the balance could reach 50% in the near future. Why not? With more women mentoring female MBAs than ever before we could see this happen sooner rather than later.”

With progressive business schools and universities encouraging this, and the enormous rise in applications from women in China, amongst others, why not?