Education for the higher educated
Published on: 7 January 2013
Function: Dean
Organisatie: Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

An MBA in Europe: More relevant than ever

In times of economic uncertainty, is it still advantageous to invest in an MBA? The short answer is: absolutely. In fact, at this particulartime, with business presenting new demands – for accountability, social responsibility and transparency – in addition to its inherent complexities, I feel it is really essential to take the time to do an MBA programme.

Differences in an MBA in US and an MBA in EuropeIn times of economic uncertainty, is it still advantageous to invest in an MBA? The short answer is: absolutely. In fact, at this particular time, with business presenting new demands – for accountability, social responsibility and transparency – in addition to its inherent complexities, I feel it is really essential to take the time to do an MBA programme.


I did an MBA, and I’ll give you an analogy of what it meant to me. I started out my career as a marketing executive for Unilever. At that time, before I’d done my MBA, I felt that I was working in a large house but that I was confined to one room – the marketing room – and the walls to the rest of the house were solid and impenetrable.


I didn’t understand what was happening elsewhere; in finance, operations, and distribution, for example. Once I’d done the MBA, it was if the walls of the house became transparent. I could see easily into the other rooms and understand what was going on in the rest of the house. I could happily walk into all the other rooms and work with different people in various functions. Everything that was going on now made sense. That’s what the MBA programme did for me.


The essence of the business school experience is not so much someone telling you what the answer is, but a process in which you can explore different scenarios, outcomes and solutions in a very real way. In addition, the real relevance and emphasis on corporate governance, stakeholder value, and sustainability in business schools today is a mandate for future business.


Europe versus America

I’ve spent much of my life studying and teaching at top American business schools and, based on that extensive experience, I can tell you that there are key differences between European business schools and their American counterparts. First of all, they each reflect the context of European and American business. American businesses have traditionally focussed much more on shareholder value and viewed it as the single most important element to maximise. The recent worldwide economic crisis has shown this to be a less-than-healthy way for business to operate. It is clear that you cannot just focus narrowly on making a profit for the corporation; you have to take responsibility as well.


European businesses, on the other hand, are much more focused on a broader set of stakeholders: shareholders; employees; society- at-large; the local community and others. In Europe we definitely encourage the view of business based on the more inclusive stakeholder perspective. Business in general is moving in this direction, as it must; this gives a European MBA real value for young business leaders.


This also relates to the whole issue of sustainability. Europe is quite ahead of the US in terms of sustainability, simply because it’s a smaller continent with more people and more challenges. In fact, the Netherlands, because of its location relative to the sea, has had to practice sustainability for centuries; otherwise it would have disappeared a long time ago.


So, in the Netherlands we’re particularly well placed to make the most of this shift in corporate thinking – the multi-stakeholder, multi-perspective and sustainability-based view of management and business.


Increased value – Increased importance

If you’re studying management, what is the difference between an MBA education and a traditional academic education? You can have the traditional approach, which is lecture-based: you’re taught based on theory. Whereas the MBA is different in that it is much more of a transformational experience: intense, interactive, group-based learning where real-life problems are addressed and where the problems – and their solutions – drive the learning process, not the theory.


Because of this more and more people are looking to undertake an MBA in Europe. Just as in the US it has become accepted that to really have a successful career you need to have an MBA, so in Europe we’re moving in that direction.


Expanding upon that, in Eastern Europe, the MBA is growing in popularity as there is an enormous need for executives who have a solid understanding of business and its principles. As with the rest of the world, the value of an MBA is increasing.


Here at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), we see ourselves as a top global business school and believe that we offer the same high quality of education as any top American school, but with some distinctive differences. We are much more international in both student mix and business focus, and offer a uniquely European perspective on the world of business, specifically stakeholder issues and sustainability - areas US schools are only just waking up to.


What to do next

For those considering an MBA, here are a few comments given to me by current students at RSM that you may find helpful:


  • Visit the school at which you want to study. You will find it an invaluable experience to be able to talk to the students, see the facilities and the general environment. Likewise, talking with the staff will give you a good feeling for what it will be like to study there. Also, take your partner with you. You trust their judgement and so the feedback you get from them will be essential to your final decision.
  • If you are wondering whether doing an MBA will be advantageous to your career, the answer is a resounding “yes”. Not just because of the value of an MBA in itself, but because in studying for one you will find fresh perspectives and great opportunities for personal and professional growth. Doing an MBA places you in a uniquely inspirational environment.
  • Having doubts about doing an MBA? Well, if you’re looking for an international career, wish to understand all the processes that affect businesses today, have the ambition, energy and drive to push yourself to success, then undertaking an MBA programme is the right choice to make – you will never regret it!


An MBA education plugs you into the network of global business. It powers creativity, fuels passion and drives ambition. Rather than relying on the passive absorption of knowledge, it frees you to make informed decisions and take calculated risks that others would neither understand nor appreciate. Perhaps more importantly it enables you to make a difference: a difference in business, in society, and in the development and quality of your life.


One last thing worth noting: the future holds unprecedented and unpredictable changes. On offer is a wealth of opportunities that haven’t even been imagined yet. Those with ambition will dream of that future and start preparing.