Are MBAs becoming irrelevant?

by Idris Mootee

Are MBAs becoming irrelevant?
by Idris Mootee

Are business schools preparing students for a flat world where organizations and national boundaries are becoming blurred?

Looking at this year MBA rankings by Financial Times, there aren’t many changes in the Top 10 list. The surprise is that #10 is a Hong Kong Business School and #12 is an Indian Business School. Other top schools (some are more local) in the rankings: IMD (Swiss) ranks 15, HEC (French) ranks 18, CEIBS (Chinese) ranks 22, Haas (American) ranks 28, Cornell (American) ranks 38, Ivey (Canadian) ranks 49. Here’s the latest FT Global Top 10 MBA Rankings for 2010:

  1. London Business School
  2. University of Pennsylvania: Wharton
  3. Harvard Business School
  4. Stanford University GSB
  5. Insead
  6. Columbia Business School
  7. IE Business School
  8. MIT: Sloan School of Management
  9. University of Chicago: Booth
  10. Hong Kong UST Business School

There are a lot of criticisms around MBA programs on different fronts. I was advising some folks that this is still the best all round business education. The last three months, I have written 4 recommendations for some folks. One was accepted by London Business School, one by Stanford Business School, one by Chicago Graduate School of Business and one by MIT Sloan. I am happy for all of them. I still think it is one of best paths to change the world.

There are arguments around whether it needs to be two years and almost all European MBAs are one year with only exception of LBS. The traditional two-year MBA curriculum, grounded in the core functional disciplines — strategy, marketing, organizational behavior, accounting, finance etc. — has been in existence since it was first pioneered in the US in the late 50s. MBAs were very much an American thing. US companies placed more value in an MBA than European companies. In the UK, a general management program combined with solid work experience is generally accepted to be sufficient.

The world of business is on the verge of transformation, a transformation, and so should business education. Where technological advance, geo-political forces, rapid globalization are all putting pressure on the business education system. I attended an event a while back at the Yale School of Management; there were 20 education institutions from around the world all struggling with the relevance of the MBA to 21st century organizations. Everyone sees the need for transformation but not many knows what and how to transform. Asking any B-school’s Dean the question how their business schools must change to better prepare our students for the challenges that they will face in a hyper competitive and uncertain world is a good start.

Yes the world is flat. Organizations are becoming increasingly flat, and social technologies are blurring the boundaries of a corporation. Leaders of modern enterprises competing in the global economy need to look for truly global managers who are capable of leading and managing across the boundaries of function, geography, and organizations and industries. Are business schools ready for this? Or should we change the old paradigm that an MBA is an elitist qualification which can enable the holder of the degree to fast-track his/her career to power and fortune? An MBA should mean less as a qualification. It is a sense of empowerment and commitment for an individual to take on big challenges, transform oneself and create win/win strategy for shareholder, employees and societies.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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