Business and Society

Manila Bulletin, May 12, 2008 | Go to article overview

Business and Society


The speakers came from top business schools from Europe and the US such as Arnoud de Meyer, Dean of the Judge Business School of Cambridge University; Joel M. Podolny, Dean of the Yale School of Management; J. Frank Brown Dean of INSEAD of France; Srikant M. Datar, Senior Associate Dean of the Harvard Business School; and Jordi Canals, Dean of the IESE Business School.

There was a healthy self-criticism admitting that the MBA programs--usually the flagship programs of most business schools--leave a lot to be desired in achieving its objective of developing leaders in a globalized world. One of the speakers criticized the compartmentalization of the MBA curriculum into the functional areas such as marketing, finance, production, human resources, strategy, etc. He said that all the subjects should be taught in a multidisciplinary way, combining all the insights that such disciplines as sociology, psychology, economics, philosophy and others can contribute to understanding business issues. Another speaker questioned the real value of an MBA, saying categorically that someone who has graduated from the University with a physics or biology major or a medical doctor can learn as much about business and management by immediately working for a consulting firm like McKinsey or Accenture as he would from an MBA Program.

Some of the speakers rehashed the traditional criticisms against an MBA as an effective means of training effective managers and leaders. Business schools may succeed helping future managers in sharpening their tools of analysis, both quantitative and qualitative, especially through the case method made famous by the Harvard Business School. But they cannot teach judgement, which is what separates a good leader from a mediocre one. Put in extreme form, as an INSEAD graduate was quoted to say in an article in the Financial Times last April 7, 2008, an MBA can give a sheen of knowledge: "It's a bullshitter's paradise." Such a skepticism is reflected in the acronym's coined by the critics of the MBA program: Mediocre but Arrogant, Master of Brainless Axioms, and the like.

Since I have heard most of these criticisms over the last thirty years, I focused on the observations made by the various Deans on trends in their respective business schools. The Dean from Harvard reported the findings of a research which revealed that the number of applicants to the MBA program from the US and other developed countries is beginning to decline and that the most rapid increases of applications are coming the emerging markets like China, India, East Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. The INSEAD dean commented that it is more important to develop competencies and virtues in the individual MBA students rather than being fixated on imparting knowledge, which can be better acquired in the work place and is constantly evolving, thus requiring a never-ending education. The IESE Dean, reflecting the unique mission of the School in cultivating global leaders with a strong commitment to ethics and the spirit of service, espoused the need to raise the ethical standards of business to the level of the medical profession. …

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