Education for the higher educated
Published on: 2 February 2017
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The MBA is a Predictable Path to Career Success

The MBA degree has proven to be a secure path to career success and financial stability, especially in times of uncertainty. Top corporate executives highlight that MBA graduates are trained to transform uncertainty into opportunity.

​We live in uncertain times with crises caused by doubtful government policies, wars, bad financial management and continuous volatility in the commodity and stock exchange markets. Uncertainty is stressful. It invokes fear and drags people and corporations outside their comfort zones. In many cases, it is classified as a negative life event, either personal or business. But as with everything, there is another side to the coin. Uncertainty may be both a challenge and an opportunity.

"Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don't let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity," is one of the most famous quotes from R. I. Fitzhenry.

Businesses which consider uncertainty as an opportunity, know how to predict, cope with and seize it. When they finally emerge they do so as market leaders with their new products, strategies or policies. Uncertainty may, of course, lead to major breakthroughs, confidence boosts and growth.

"The economic shock of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed, didn't just create profound uncertainty over the direction of the global economy, but also shook the confidence of many business leaders in their ability to see the future well enough to take bold action", Lowell Bryan, a director of McKinsey New York office says in his article "Dynamic management: Better decisions in uncertain times". In fact, companies can't predict the future, but they can build organisations that will survive and flourish in just about any possible circumstances.

This is why, in today's uncertain times, businesses need those leaders and managers whose mind-sets are tuned to see uncertainty as an opportunity rather than a risk. An MBA graduate is exactly that person.

"Clearly you can have a rewarding life and career without an MBA. You can certainly become rich and powerful without one, as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Amancio Ortega can testify. But when you're creating the next Google, Tencent, or Apple, you're going to need people with the training, skills, and networks that business education is uniquely good at providing. There's a reason all of those companies hire people with MBAs," writes Sally E. Blount, dean of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, in her essay "Yes, the world needs more MBAs".

According to Blount, the world needs leaders who understand markets deeply, their connection to the public sector, and the philosophical, cultural and social implications of global business growth. "We need leaders who fully grasp that markets, while highly efficient, are not fair, kind, or wise. […] We need leaders who are ready to confront the challenges of growing income inequality, unemployment, environmental impact, and cultural homogenisation that current business practices do not yet adequately address."

Why an MBA is so important in uncertain times?

An MBA teaches you to think strategically about your field or industry within the context of the larger business world. Financial accounting, managerial economics, strategy, marketing management and financial marketing coursework underpin your new capabilities. Studying for an MBA teaches you to speak the language of business. It helps you face problems that emerge in the real business world without running away from them.

As the saying goes, "A problem well defined is half solved". This exemplifies the importance of the conceptualisation steps in any problem -solving methodology. Therefore, it is essential to provide MBA graduates with at least some of the basic fundamentals of how to conceptualise and attack difficult problems.

This is why, apart from hard and soft skills, MBA courses are invaluable for the focus they put on teaching various problem-solving techniques, providing attendees with a rich toolkit with different approaches that one can use when facing a problem. The problem-solving methodology taught in the degree enables graduates to view a particular issue from different angles and consider it in its complexity.

"The problems that we face in business nowadays are multifaceted. To really solve a problem, you need to understand all of its aspects and everything around it," emphasises Daniel Kiryakov, an MBA from Yale School of Management. Daniel, who has worked as a venture capital investment analyst, thinks that an MBA graduate is armed with the toolkit for deep-dive research and analysis of prospective investments. "The MBA programme provided me with the basic skills that I needed in order to perform this analysis, but also with the framework and mind-set to analyse such complex problems. At the end of the day you want to know if this company is a good investment, and that's a simple yes or no answer; but to get there, you need to go through multiple levels of examination," Daniel adds.

Bryan thinks that the knowledge, skill, and experience of these leaders make them better suited than anyone else to act decisively when the time is right. Such executives are also well placed to build the organisational capabilities needed to expose critical issues early, and then use the extra lead time to gather intelligence, to conduct the needed analyses, and to debate their implications.

"Companies can't control the weather, but they can design and build a ship, and equip it with a leadership team, that can navigate the ocean under all weather conditions. Organisations that become more flexible and skilful at making critical decisions when the timing is right have enormous opportunities to capture markets and profits from companies that persist in managing as if the future business environment is reasonably predictable," Bryan writes.

According to Blount, intelligent, highly driven individuals will reinvent markets, fuel growth, and work across sectors to build strong, transformative organisations. But markets or governments won't do this on their own; the incentives just aren't there. "That's why the world needs more, not less, business education. It depends on it," Blount concludes.

"A business degree remains one of the most predictable paths to success and financial stability and can provide the proverbial leg-up from relative poverty to great accomplishment and wealth. In uncertain times, such as we have had since 2008, it tends to draw more students who make this connection," says Sri Zaheer, dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.