It’s fashionable in this fast-paced era of exponentially accelerating technology to deride the value of a traditional M.B.A. Indeed, some people believe that even an undergraduate degree is not particularly useful for a would-be entrepreneur, and the most vocal adherents of this school of thought are encouraging ambitious young people to drop out of college and immediately start their own businesses.
I could not disagree more.
The M.B.A. degree was created in the early 20th century as “scientific” approaches to business management were first being developed, and gained its foothold in the booming post-war years when rapidly expanding American industries needed a steady supply of new managers to administer their ever-increasing workforces. It saw its apotheosis with a pivot as the financial markets of the late 20th century glorified the arcane financial analysis and marketing skills required of the so-called Masters of the Universe in investment banking and consulting.
When I received my M.B.A. from Columbia University Graduate School of Business in 1983, there wasn’t a single course or activity with the word “entrepreneurship” in its title. Many — if not most — of my classmates were fast-tracked managers from utility companies, large retailers, consumer goods conglomerates and financial firms. But over the past few decades, as companies began to shrink and brand new upstarts like Apple and Microsoft became the most valuable companies in the world, Newsweek identified the country’s most endangered species as the “Bached White Male” corporate middle-manager.
There is no question that the game has changed, fundamentally and irrevocably. As I noted in my closing talk on The Evolution of Success at TEDxWallStreet we are moving at an ever-accelerating pace to a time in which entrepreneurship will be the cornerstone of the business world, large companies will continue to shrink, agile methodologies will replace traditional top-down management, and “career management” will be a personal rather than institutional responsibility.
In response to this core shift in the commercial world, M.B.A. programs have not remained stagnant, as some would seem to imply. Rather, they are themselves pivoting with the changing market, and squarely addressing the new realities.
I serve on the advisory boards of the entrepreneurship programs at both Columbia and Yale, and was mentor of the year at NYU’s Stern School of Business, so I have had a first-hand view of these fundamental transformations.
Originally pioneered by schools like Babson, where entrepreneurship is embedded into every class and activity, and picked up and expanded by top-tier schools such as Stanford, where their online Technology Entrepreneurship course has been taken by more than 25,000 students, academic business programs have adapted to the times. At NYU Stern, the annual business-plan competition organized by the Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation is the heart of the program, with more than 500 teams participating in recent years. This is where companies like Pinterest and Comixology found their initial teams and their seed investors.
As The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania notes in its online introduction to its M.B.A., a modern business school degree provides a host of benefits that have great value in the new world of fast-moving, entrepreneurial innovation. In addition to the network and brand-validation that comes along with a high end M.B.A. program, these courses of study provide a true grounding in the “hard skills” of economics, finance, marketing, operations, management and accounting, as well as the “soft skills ” of leadership, teamwork, ethics and communication that are so critical for effectively creating and managing both innovation and growth.
Whether it is internalizing crucial concepts such as the time value of money, or really understanding the core values of agile project management, a 2013 version M.B.A. from a strong program represents to me an indication (along with many other factors) of someone who can potentially make a major, positive contribution to our team.
* Original post can be found on Wall Street Journal Blogs @ http://blogs.wsj.com/accelerators/2013/04/04/david-rose-m-b-a-programs-have-adapted-to-the-startup-model/ *