What do would-be CEOs learn?

The MBA – Master of Business Administration degree infers that whoever has an MBA has mastered the art of administering a business – right?

Then what does an EMBA imply? A higher mastery of administering a business by earning the Executive Master of Business Administration degree?

MBA and EMBA degrees have become more and more synonymous with the title of CEO because many CEOs have MBA degrees. In addition, management ranks are swelling with MBA degree holders as the MBA has now become the requirement for advancement or even consideration for many executive management positions.

This has been spurred on by every variety of MBA program imaginable being offered by every college and university on earth. Up until recently major corporations were funding MBA degrees for managers as a benefit. The weird part about this was that when managers got their MBA’s the companies that paid for them did nothing in terms of recognition or promotion, and in many cases the managers who got the company funded MBA left the firm shortly after getting their degree.

Now we have online MBA’s, hybrid MBA’s, evening MBA’s, dual MBA’s, and accelerated (20 month) MBA programs. Ads promoting MBA programs are everywhere. Pretty soon there may even be people handing out fliers for MBA programs on street corners.

Given this proliferation of MBA degree holders – it certainly doesn’t seem like the art of management has improved much studying the results and mismanagement episodes at many large corporations. What have all these MBA’s learned?

The premise is that the courses and cases that are part of almost every MBA program explore the most important aspects of managing any company successfully. Some of the better programs analyze why major firms have failed, and how to avoid those mistakes. Even business ethics has become a core course in more and more programs.

With all this training, case analysis, and even team competitions in business simulations – why aren’t more companies managed better with these hordes of educated experts on business management on board?

One explanation could be that because the faculty teaching in MBA programs are stacked with Ph.D.’s who for the most part have never managed anything, and thus cannot share real business experiences. Another might be that the students aren’t serious and don’t apply themselves as they should. Or, many courses in MBA programs are just glorified undergraduate courses embellished with graduate level texts.

Whatever the reasons are it is obvious from corporate results and more and more frequent mismanagement experiences that what’s learned in MBA programs isn’t working in practice.

And now with the advances in IT and the internet shrinking corporate executive payrolls by automating more and more functions, the even bigger question is “what is the value of the MBA?” With the disappearance of traditional career paths MBA alum’s and current MBA students have fewer and fewer opportunities. This is evidenced by the discharging of more and more middle managers at large companies that is happening almost unabated.

We have a real “Catch 22” for the MBA and EMBA programs. The competition for a shrinking pool of students is fierce with more and more colleges and universities promoting every innovative scheme they can imagine. In combination with changing skill requirements for future jobs, it certainly appears that there needs to be substantial changes in curriculum in many MBA programs to address the new job requirements of the information technology driven world of future work.

Maybe the time of the EMTM – Executive Masters in Technology Management degree has arrived?

As CEO what do you feel is the value of the MBA degree in a world rapidly transitioning to a new more virtual form of organizational structure?


Robert M. Donnelly is the author of: Guidebook to Planning - A Common Sense Approach, an educator: Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Saint Peter's University, and a brand builder and marketing expert. His new book: Personal Brand Planning for life is a guide for anyone w...

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