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The MBA ? essential accessory or expensive luxury?

Adrian Barrett is a writer specialising in business school education with careers and education group, QS, which stages the World MBA Tour programme of business education fairs. QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd, London
The MBA, or Masters in Business Administration, degree is now probably the most popular and widely-recognised postgraduate qualification in the world, and every year more than 100,000 eager students will invest large amounts of time and money to gain one. But what exactly is it and is it really worth all the effort?
The first MBA programme was developed at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in the early years of the last century and was originally a purely administrative qualification with an emphasis on finance and accounting. The programme remained more or less unchanged until the 1950s when the business school at Harvard developed teaching based around real-life case studies ? a methodology which remains the basis of most business school training to this day. Modern programmes are designed to give students a basic grounding in the key tools of business management and consequently cover such areas as finance and economics, human resources, marketing, IT, strategy and leadership. Core subjects are then supplemented by a range of electives in such subjects as entrepreneurship, consulting, brand management or ethics. These round off the candidate?s experience. Some schools have now moved beyond the ?generalist? approach of traditional programmes and are introducing courses with a high degree of specialisation. The ESSEC School in France, for example, teaches an MBA in Luxury Brand Management, while Liverpool University in the UK has even developed a programme dedicated to Football Management.MBA programmes come with a wide variety of study options. If you are in a hurry and want to focus completely on your studies, the full-time option may be your best bet. Programmes vary in length depending on which school and even which country you choose. British MBAs tend to last around a year, although one of the country?s most respected schools, London, offers a two year course. In Europe, programmes vary from one year to eighteen months (although London, one of the continent?s most respected schools, offers a two year course). In the USA two years is the norm. Advocates of the short programme maintain that it is highly concentrated and has the advantage of taking you out of the workplace for the minimum time. Their opponents argue that longer courses give you more time to digest lessons learned and deal with subjects in greater depth. As the old adage goes, you pay your money and you take your choice.

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If you are unwilling, or unable, to face as much as two years out of the office then you should consider studying on a part-time basis. Taking an MBA in this way usually means completing a large part of your studies on-line using distance-learning technology supplemented by occasional evenings or weekends in the classroom. It gives you the flexibility to work around your day-job, when and where it is convenient and it also allows you to stretch your training over a long period ? anything up to eight years. It does, however, call for self-discipline, stamina and a sympathetic family who are willing to put up with you disappearing to tackle the mysteries of financial analysis when they would prefer you to be helping with cooking, cleaning, looking after children, etc.The third route to those prized three letters after your name is the Executive MBA. These tend to be used by organisations that want to develop leadership and management skills in employees with high potential, and usually combine short periods in the classroom with some online work. The major difference between this type of MBA and those discussed earlier is that your employer sponsors your training and consequently foots the bill. Perhaps time to start being as nice to your boss as possible!So is an MBA right for you? Well, before you start imagining yourself rubbing shoulders in the classroom with the very best in the business world, let?s look at some of the negatives about taking an MBA. First of all, it?s extremely hard work. ?Although it?s very intellectually stimulating,? says Mike Holmes who left his job in IT sales to take an MBA at the Henley School of Management, ?there?s nothing that you can?t cope with ? we?re not talking rocket science here. However, what does get to you is the sheer volume of work you have to undertake and the pressure you operate under. You are always working to tight deadlines and juggling commitments to your own individual assignments and those of your group. You need to understand how to prioritise and to shift your priorities almost on an hourly basis.?Secondly, it can be dauntingly expensive. Although there are full-time programmes which charge as little as US $5,000 (not too bad, if you say it quickly), two years at Wharton, one of the world?s top schools, will leave you with little change from US $70,000. On top of this, you will need to add accommodation, travel, living expenses and, of course, your lost salary. Altogether, it can prove quite a significant investment.It?s also highly important to identify exactly what you are looking to get from your time at business school. Too many candidates come to the course with the expectation that it will change their lives, or at least the path of their career, beyond recognition. It won?t. An MBA can give you more confidence in your abilities, can introduce you to new ways of doing business or working with colleagues, but it?s a hard fact of life that most recruiters still regard it as ?icing on the cake? and not the cake itself. If you?re an accountant or a lawyer you may find yourself moving into a more strategically oriented role. You may even be able to move into some form of consultancy. Unless you are one of a relatively small group who pass through the very top schools fairly early on in life, however, it?s unlikely that your career will change direction completely.That?s the bad news. Now let?s look at the good. An MBA can definitely make a difference to your future earning power, particularly if you are willing to make the investment in studying at a world-class school. According to figures from 2003, alumni of the Columbia Business School in the USA increased their remuneration level by 232% in the three years after graduation. In Europe, MBAs from London Business School saw their earnings rise by 189% and graduates of the Saïd school at Oxford by 145%.After a downturn in recruitment in the wake of the dotcom crash and 9/11, demand for MBAs is now rising again. This is according to the 2004 TopMBA.com research which surveys over 400 employers around the world every year. At the INSEAD school in France, Mary Boss, director of corporate development, reports that consulting firms are, ??now hiring for thirteen offices... ?compared with 2001 - 2002 when they only came to campus to hire for five or six offices?. At Spain?s IE-Instituto de Empresa, associate director of the career management department, Boris Nowalski, says, ?We?re positive about all sectors for 2004. Investment banking and consulting are noticeably picking up.? And according to Abby Scott of the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, ?Students are finding jobs in industries all across the board.? One unexpected bonus stemming from the downturn in the early years of the decade has been a broadening of the range of organisations interested in hiring MBAs as we enter a period of recovery. ?When times were tough, individual students and career departments at business schools had to go out and find new opportunities outside the ?usual suspect? banks and consultancies,? says Brendan McShane of the specialist MBA career service, Global-Workplace. ?That meant selling the value of the qualification to a much wider variety of employers: small, growing companies; specialist consultancies; family firms; and public sector bodies. Now these organisations have seen what an MBA can contribute, they?re keen to come back for more.?In a shrinking world, the MBA has the advantage of being the only truly international business qualification, much more so than even the most widely accepted accountancy qualifications such as the CPA or ACCA. ?I?ve already worked in Belgium and the UK and when I graduate I want to get experience in China, which seems to be a market with tremendous potential for the future,? says Ida Huang, a Swedish student at Manchester Business School. ?An MBA helps you to consolidate and build on what you?ve already learned in business, but perhaps most importantly for me, it?s the qualification which offers almost total international mobility.? Her opinion is reinforced by British MBA, Piyush Unalkat, who studied at IE-Instituto de Empresa in Madrid. ?Since completing my MBA, I?ve stayed on in Spain working as a venture capitalist and am now founding a company there ? not too bad for someone who came to the country five years ago with a beginners guide to Spanish he bought off Amazon!?However, if there is one aspect of taking an MBA which appears to outshine all others it?s the confidence in their own abilities that the qualification seems to inspire in its holders, wherever their careers take them. Crawford Gillies has a classic big-firm MBA background. He took a first degree in law, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and then took an MBA at Harvard. Following an internship with the strategy consultancy Bain, he joined the firm full-time in 1983 and has now risen to become Managing Director for Europe. ?My MBA transformed my career. For a start, it would have been almost impossible for me to gain entry to Bain without an MBA. It gave me technical competencies, experience in evaluating companies, the ability to master a brief, and the self-confidence that I had the potential to attain a senior position in management. Throughout my career I have drawn upon different aspects of my MBA experience and my MBA network.?
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 01.10.2004