Difficult times bode well for introspection. A recent article in the Harvard Business School (HBS) Alumni Bulletin outlined the key talking points at a conclave of business school deans and corporate recruiters that took place at HBS in March. The location of the exercise in soul-searching was apt—it was 100 years ago at the very same institution that the almighty MBA degree was born.
There is no doubting the tone of the article titled “Harvard Business School Discusses Future of the MBA”—pessimism abounds and most deans agree that the concept of the MBA needs a complete overhaul. McGill University’s Henry Mintzberg contended that the “conventional MBA programmes train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences”.
Illustration by Jayachandran / Mint
Overall, it was felt that business education lacked impact in three key areas: globalization, experiential learning and leadership. According to Rakesh Khurana of HBS, business schools have played a causal role in business scandals such as Enron by churning out graduates who ranked shareholder value above all other criteria.
There are a number of perplexing presumptions here. Social awareness, which is also good for non-MBAs, is a desirable objective. But to think that two years at a business school will radically rewrite the social values of students is preposterous. At best, business schools can ask students to think of their priorities differently. But the burden of the social decrepitude of industry is best left to industry to bear.
Leadership, again, is a quality that is difficult to impart in the classroom. While business schools must provide the tools and the intellectual horsepower to support leadership, in today’s turbulent business world leadership is often a matter of work experience, mentorship and individual drive.
While tinkering with their mission statements, business schools will do well to keep in mind their basic mandate— teaching what makes a business work. It is when they try to overreach and express a desire to produce corner office-ready super-managers with spotless consciences that they create unrealistic expectations for recruiters and graduates.
A quick overview of human history will show that business scandals pre-date the first batch of graduates from HBS. Business schools should then rest easy knowing that businesses, irrespective of MBA curriculum, will rise and fall.
The MBAs didn’t ruin Enron. Enron did it to itself.
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