Education for the higher educated
Published on: 13 August 2012
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Fulfilling Great Expectations: A Tailor-Made MBA

Globalization and digitalization have undoubtedly changed the business world in the last ten years. For business schools the implication was that the curricula had to be updated and the educational offering had to be adapted to suit the demands of potential students and their respective employers and industries. The most obvious change has been the rapid internationalization of MBA programs. Most business schools now offer semesters abroad, operated by themselves or by partner universities. The internet combined with its derivatives have forced business schools to actively restructure their curricula. However, the biggest development in business education during the last years has been offer MBAs with a specialization – may it be a subject-related specialization (e.g. taxes) or an industry focus (e.g. the leisure and tourism industry).

Performing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis could help you identify what you are looking for in a Tailor-Made MBA.Globalization and digitalization have undoubtedly changed the business world in the last ten years. For business schools the implication was that the curricula had to be updated and the educational offering had to be adapted to suit the demands of potential students and their respective employers and industries. The most obvious change has been the rapid internationalization of MBA programs. Most business schools now offer semesters abroad, operated by themselves or by partner universities. The internet combined with its derivatives have forced business schools to actively restructure their curricula. However, the biggest development in business education during the last years has been offer MBAs with a specialization – may it be a subject-related specialization (e.g. taxes) or an industry focus (e.g. the leisure and tourism industry).

 

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), in 2010 nearly 70% of the examinees indicated that they intended to focus on a particular area whilst doing their MBA. Now this is quite contrary to the MBA of the past 40 years, which was based on the idea, of giving middle and senior managers the possibility to re-attend university and upgrade their business administration knowledge, as well as simultaneously extending their professional network. Proof of this is that in the past the average age for doing an MBA in the US was above 30, now it is below. In fact you will still find some institutions where this is the case, but in general the MBA world has changed drastically; just think of flattened hierarchies and the partial extinction of middle management. Consequently, our MBA expectations have also changed.

 

Maybe the most dramatic change is that a standard MBA is becoming more and more outdated. Today’s business world is seeking managers that possess a fundament of general business administration knowledge, but on top of that a have a series of qualities that make them special, which in turn makes their contribution to the company even bigger. This also applies to the modern entrepreneur; a set of core competencies is necessary to make the difference.


It is also necessary to understand that in today’s business world the probability of the sanctuary of staying with one company or department or even business model after graduating from college is rather low. So you must make good use of the knowledge you attain when doing your MBA. What can be better than tailoring your MBA to that what you consider to be important for your future success? On a final note, if you think that you have chosen the wrong approach, no need to worry. Education is never bad for you and most probably, in order to stay competitive in the long run, you will have to go back for more education anyway.


Whether you like it or not, when facing the cruel reality of the business world you must consider yourself a product and service. Corresponding to the ever more demanding business world, the only way to guarantee a successful career is to continuously improve this product and service through life-long learning. So this article is on how to approach the big question ‘What type of business education do I need in order to achieve this’? The first step to solving this question is to apply the analytic tools we use in the business world to oneself with utmost scrutiny. I personally would suggest a simple SWOT analysis to start with.
So find your favorite thinking spot, settle down with pen and paper, take a deep breath and start with your strengths. Obviously that should be the easiest. Now if you have problems with this don’t panic, for some it is more difficult to carve out their strengths than for others. My suggestion to overcome this is, don’t be too harsh with yourself, be harsh with the others.

 

Take a look at their weaknesses and it should be a lot easier to discover your strengths. Now when it comes to your weaknesses things might get difficult. We do tend to lock these away in our cellar and have problems being objective. Once again don’t panic if you can’t find any weaknesses, or you reveal too many. For the former, there is always room for development and if your not sure about that I suggest a great book ‘The No-A**hole Rule’ by Stanford Professor Robert Sutton. For the latter, those with the perception of having too many weaknesses, this will book will also help you.

 

Now when it comes to opportunities, well this might be overwhelming, we either have the sensation that there are too many and we suffer from the same dilemma as Buridan’s donkey. Placed at equal distance between two haystacks, the donkey starved because he could not decide which haystack he should go to. Or we have the feeling all seats are taken, or that there are no seats at all in this desert we are in. Please do not give up, usually the next day or the following week the restaurant in the oasis will have a seat for you to dine, or someone will have the great ideas of opening a restaurant with a spectacular view over the desert that attracts endless amounts of guests. By the way, you might want to reserve your table now, before it’s too late.

 

When it comes to the threats, there are many more than you can think of, but again please don’t revert to panic station again. I remember my first SWOT analysis in the early nineties and asking myself if nuclear war was a threat to the business case I had to solve. Yes, there are certain external events which we cannot foresee, but no, you should not fall into the panic mode that the media tries to put us in, so that we buy their products – even today bad news always sells better than good news. You should consider threats as challenges that you will be ready to deal with in the future. After finishing your SWOT analysis, I highly suggest a reality check. Go through the heroic effort and show a highly-trustworthy person your SWOT analysis. Yes, I know, a real tough call, but it is your future success at stake, so you might just want to go through with it as a safety measure.

 

Having reached this point, you should be able to assess your personal status quo and it is time to think about the educational strategy you will choose. Most probably you will now be confronted with the following questions: ‘Should I focus on expanding my strengths, or reducing my weaknesses, or go after the opportunities, or prepare for future threats, or maybe all at the same time’? No easy decision to make. On the other hand, maybe to make you feel better, current research has proven that generally speaking nobody is bad in math, they just had a bad math teacher. If you look at the amount of literature available on ‘how to be creative’ and ‘how to be an entrepreneur’ you should not worry. So again no call for panic, all of us sitting in the ‘business world boat’ are confronted with these challenges and the future is clearly not ours to see. Nonetheless, as a remedy for possible symptoms of panic, I highly suggest a small book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschaeppeler called ‘The Decision Book – Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking’. Not only does it give you the tools to analyze and improve yourself, but it will also gently push you in the direction of what you want from your MBA. This really being the quintessential question to ask oneself and the reason why you have to go through this tedious self-analysis.

 

Nowadays tailor-made MBAs are popping up quicker than weeds in a garden. There appears to be no limit to the specializations on offer. If you are one of the few that know exactly what they are looking for, congratulations, you will find it. However, if you belong to the majority and are not sure exactly which industry you would like to work in, welcome to reality! Either go back to your personal SWOT analysis, or do a brutally honest brain-storming session on yourself. In closing here are a few words of encouragement:

Just a few people remain in their chosen field; a very close friend of mine became an architect, but has run her own very successful, market-niche business for the last 15 years. Eureka! You finally found the specialization you were looking for, but very few resources exist! Do not capitulate. Write the resources yourself!