B-Schools: Love them or Leave Them?!

“We are facing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. There is plenty of blame to go around. But as suppliers of ideas and talent to the business community, business schools need to accept some responsibility.”

Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana, HBS, “Failure to Promote a Higher Cause”

B-school and Ivy League undergraduate programs have become a necessary evil perceived by many as the only way to get hired, be offered a fair salary and/or be promoted.  Learning for the love of learning is a secondary consideration these days.  Students take out astronomical loans with the aim of getting an edge over their competition, being hired relatively quickly and not falling into the growing percent of new graduates who are unemployed or underemployed.

The reality is that not all MBA’s or Ivy League grads are created equal.  In their quest for fast progression up the corporate ladder, with corresponding financial rewards, some take wild risks that impact not just their companies but in some cases an entire country.  Ethics and morals are tossed out the window at the thought of a quick ride to the top with mansions and boats waiting in exotic locations for their pleasure.  So that you don’t get the impression I’m an Ebeneezer Scrooge, I’ll state for the record that I have no issues with individuals who work, get rewarded and spend money on themselves and their families. I have my vices and love to travel to exotic places as often as possible.  My concern is when a lack of foresight affects more than the graduate themselves.

In the not so distant past, the U.S. became one of the biggest victims of arrogant (or perhaps just plain stupid) B-school graduates, those high flyers with charisma but no substance as their exotic financial derivatives imploded and brought a once great country to it’s knees.  Perhaps they called it “innovation” or “thinking outside of the box” to justify their experiments but where was the risk assessment?  Oh that’s right, there was none, just as with Enron. Oops!  Whether it’s fair or not, the perception created was that  B-Schooler’s knowingly created  a catastrophe with the intent of taking personal short-term gains regardless of who was hurt.  Not that different than the robber barons who exploited others in their quest for profits at the expense of America’s native population and resources over 100 years ago.

Can B-School Grads Get the Job Done?
Observation over many years has shown me that it is a relatively small percentage of B-school graduates who are able to immediately apply their knowledge and skills through practical application upon graduation.  The others are like deers, standing in front of the glaring headlamps of a car, frozen and unsure of what to do.  To successfully integrate into the “real world” takes learning methods and specific skills from the employer hiring an individual.  Firms choosing to heavily recruit in the B-school  and Ivy League arena need to ensure robust internal training programs are in place so the  percentage who don’t intuitively “get it” are developed before placing them in front of clients.

Organisations who do not have these plans in place will suffer from the experienced hire syndrome that seems to be running rampant.  With highly qualified individuals regulated to lower levels, and in many cases forced to train their managers, the workplace isn’t very harmonious these days.

What Does the Future Hold in Store?
My prediction is that the perceptions will change, young people will no longer be burdened with ridiculous student loans and emphasis will be placed on common sense, relationship skills and the ability to apply concepts at both design and execution phases.  Focus may even switch back to apprenticeships, where new hires are assigned a master practitioner to oversee their development and ensure their success.  The days of being solely a strategist are over.  Substance counts.  A new benchmark is being set and individuals must be able to both strategize and execute. Many hiring managers are making conscious choices to hire individuals with desire and drive versus a pedigree to ensure they have employees capable of getting the job done.

Organisations who are currently operating under this model (it’s fascinating to see some late ’90’s tactics coming back into play), and have chosen to put their head in the sand like an ostrich, need to be prepared for the lawsuits that will be leveled at them. While some employees won’t bother to file- others will.  The demographics for promotion, have shifted and in one global firm known for it’s outsourcing capabilities, individuals in the 25-35 range, many on H1B visas, are selected over older, more experienced American Nationals.

Why?  An individual working for five-ten years typically makes less than someone with twenty plus years of experience and is cheaper to promote – lack of skills and ability to perform – just a regrettable by product.  It’s a case of “see no, hear no, say no evil.” The alleged leaders who allow these practices to take place look the other way and will continue to do so until they get caught.

The smart organisation will ensure diversity prevails and individuals hired for their experience, abilities and IP are given the same opportunities as the “home-growns,” regardless of what country of origin they may be from and let performance be the ultimate dictator of advancement.

Disclaimer: All insights and opinions are my own and have been formed over many years of practical business and personal experiences; as both an employee and a business owner. They do not represent the views of  my current employer. MM