Tuesday, April 08, 2008

HBS is 100

Harvard Business School, the mother of them all, turned 100 on April 8. There is a critique by Stella Bradshaw in FT. It's a critique as much of the MBA degree as of HBS:

Strip away the hype surrounding the MBA, though, and it is difficult to come up with hard evidence to prove that 100 years of management education, and the MBA degree in particular, have been beneficial to business or society. Indeed, even among its proponents, many are questioning whether business schools teach the right things, in the right way, to the right people.

..........Given the obvious popularity of the MBA, it may seem strange that business schools, particularly in the US, are facing a crisis of confidence about what they teach. One of the biggest issues is surprisingly similar to the dilemma faced by Harvard 100 years ago: that is, the extent to which business schools should teach the practical and research the theoretical.
The 'crisis of confidence' in the quote above is for real. Unlike in law and medical schools, faculty lack the conviction they are adding value. Motivation is low amongst students in the second year because only the first year grades are made available to recruiters. This means that how you fare academically in the second year doesn't have a bearing on the job you will land. Take care of the first year grades and you have made it.

I liked the variations in the FT article on what MBA has come to mean: Mediocre but Arrogant, Master of Brainless Axioms. A student from Insead is quoted in the article as saying that the MBA programme is a 'bullshitter's paradise'.


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Krishnan said...

The Law School has created more chaos and havoc than their business school, in my opinion. The ability to talk endlessly about nothing (lawyers) or to crunch numbers and make nothing look like something seems to be built-in, the respective graduate schools offer a stamp of approval to those graduates who in turn hire more of their kind and so the cycle continues. I have no doubt that HBS has a number of outstanding graduates who have by their sheer intellect changed the face of many industries - but HBS has no monopoly on such intellect. It does worry me when I see what looks like an erosion of some their own standards when it comes to recruiting or the assignment of meaningful grades. One can only imagine what might have happened if HBS had accepted Warren Buffett. We know what happened when they accepted Elliot Spitzer after he was forced to go to Princeton as an undergraduate. Imagine if Fred Smith's (FedEx) paper about the idea for a cargo transport company was lauded instead of being critcized - Fred may have sat on his laurels and done nothing ... (I think Fred went to HBS). HBS (and Harvard in general) will continue to attract good students and they will coast for a long time ... Other schools should use Harvard's intransigence on curricular issues and internal strife on education and training (from what I understand) to leapfrog Harvard ... Should be fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I am penning down my thoughts on the 'crisis of confidence' you have mentioned in your post.

Grades, motivation and an MBA: I think there is no correlation between academic performance and professional performance. It is only those racing rats who only care about the final pay package do what is just enough to achieve that. It is the individual's personal motivation that takes him to and beyond the next mile. I, for one, have chosen unconventional summer project and trying to make a difference in urban slums. Frankly, I had no 'clear-cut' idea of what I want out of MBA when you interviewed me. I only knew that I want to go to next level of social and economic status. But the exposure, knowledge and opportunities that I got from IIMA has given me a sense of direction now. I will enter my second year with greater motivation. Just that it may not reflect in my grades but in action. I am sure that I am not alone. I believe MBAs are not theorists but practitioners and I request you not to judge them only by their answer papers.

Theory and Practice: Yes, there is gap between what we study in the institute and what we do in office. It is largely due to the time and resource constraints in reality, the uncertainities and also the individual preferences and biases that come into picture. However, knowledge from theory arms the student with weapon that can tackle the problem at hand. It is upto him to use it. It would never go waste. But I believe that an MBA program which aims to produce future managers should stress on practice. Sometimes I even think that this perceived 'lack of motivation' in second year may be because the students have realized what is relevant in reality (after their summer projects).

Bullshitter's Paradise: It is the man-in-control who makes it so. I have had some amazing insights from a professor who discussed a two page case for three classes. I have also slept through a pointless discussion on dragging 30 page long case.

Mediocre But Arrogant, Master of Brainless Axioms: tch tch, sour grapes!

Summing my point: If I can generalize from my experience, Management education from good institute makes a 'life of difference' in a person. Whether he can bring the same difference to society and nation at large is his choice.

IIM Ahmedabad.