MBA 2012: Its Image & Identity

Below is a guest post by Loek Hopstaken (b. 1951), a business consultant, management trainer & MBA professor, working in both The Netherlands & Vietnam. His areas of expertise include leadership, communication and human resource management.

MBAThe image of MBA: an all-round education in management that offers in-depth knowledge and the latest insights in a wide range of subjects. A typical MBA approach is to study business cases. It combines the latest scientific discoveries and business realities from strategy to finance, marketing to human resource management. A typical MBA student has 5 or more years of working, preferably management, experience. An MBA opens the gates to the C-suite, or at least the door to a successful and financially rewarding international career. This image is being promoted by business schools all over the world, from Harvard to Erasmus. Last but not least: the MBA is expensive. Business schools are themselves successful enterprises.

The identity of MBA: due to rapid changes in the international business arena, the financial crisis and a series of business scandals all involving MBA graduates from famous business schools, the evidence that MBA programs don’t live up to their reputation and image is mounting. But there is more. These rapid changes mean that once useful knowledge is now outdated and insights have proven to be wrong. The books were written mostly before 2008 and miss out on careful analyses of the current economic downturn, and on the quick rise of social media and their meaning for business – both the marketing and the PR sides. The typical MBA student has little or no management experience. Globally, the cost of an MBA program ranges from over US$ 55,000 to less than US$ 7,000. To make ends meet, the “cheap” business schools fill up their classes with 30 – 40 or more students, making effective team work and group discussions nearly impossible.

Part of the MBA image is that it’s an all-American education and training program. This is mostly true, as the MBA originated in the USA. The business world of the 21st century, however, has gone global.  So far, most MBA programs are weak in updating and integrating these new developments. Global means more than the USA. However, most MBA books still use American business cases, most, if not all, dating from before 2008. These are “old news”. Current developments require a rethinking of existing models, a rejection of models that have proven to be unworkable, and even soul-searching, where business ethics are concerned. Nowadays, the difference between success and failure in business is no longer a matter of using the right or wrong business model, but of having the right set of soft skills, or lack thereof. The once modern MBA has become a dinosaur: it misses the connection with the modern times. Many professors have little or no business experience.

In a country like Vietnam an MBA degree is seen by many employers as a must-have for positions that really don’t require the MBA. The result: ambitious job seekers desperately want an MBA for their career. Some CEO’s want to have diploma on the wall for the prestige value.  Senior officials need to have a master’s degree by 2015, and the MBA is the easiest degree to get. They take the content for granted: do the assignments, write a thesis, all that is necessary to get the certificate. Study old editions of American books that elsewhere would be part of a BBA program (like Philip Kotler’s Principles of Marketing). American business cases, no Vietnamese, as these are simply unavailable. They gladly pay the US$ 7,000 or US$ 8,000, believing they will soon belong to the elite that has graduated from Harvard or Wharton.  “MBA inflation” has set in, and the students totally depend on the quality and integrity of their schools and teachers to learn something that can be applied in their future business environment.

One thought on “MBA 2012: Its Image & Identity

  1. Since I have CEO experience in India and ASEAN I feel qualified to comment on this. I have taught MBA for U of Houston, Griggs, HSB and the Paris Graduate School of Mgt. Students in VN DO want to learn and I can see it in their eyes! Further, VN students are quick to complain if a teacher adds no value or “reads the slides” only. If they did not care, they would not complain. MBA students in VN are good students and yes, there is credential inflation. Soon there will be DBA programs…

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