To MBA or Not To MBA? Part II

So what is the “hidden” value of an MBA program?  My hint, in my previous post said, “it has nothing to do with education”.

Let’s try to look at this objectively.  As part of an MBA curriculum, a student is required to learn the core functions of a business.  Now, depending on the program itself, a student can specialize in a particular subject (e.g. finance), but generally speaking, the program will still need to cover other topics including, but not limited to, HR, Marketing, Finance, Ethics, Economics, and Strategy thereby providing the student with a broad knowledge base needed to operate a company.  So, regardless of whether you go to Columbia, Berkeley, Stanford, or Pepperdine, you’re going to have to learn the same topics.

Okay, so it’s not the curriculum.  Is it the course material? 

How many Philip Kotler’s do you know?  That’s right – just one; and he is widely considered to be the father of modern day Marketing.  Therefore, there is a good chance that when you take a class on Marketing, you’re going to be reading Dr. Kotler’s textbook.  Side note – a friend of mine completed their MBA ten years ago and they too used Kotler’s book (just a different revision).  So, again, that means, regardless of the school you go to, a majority of the course material will be the same.

So it’s not the course material.   Is it the teaching style of the program?

This one is pretty simple – the concept of a case study is the predominant teaching style for almost every single program because it’s simple, engages all students to provide their perspective, and finally, it just works.

Now, let’s say you go to any decent school – do you know where they get their case studies?  Harvard.  That’s right – Harvard is de-facto case study provider for almost all schools.  This does not mean Harvard is the best school just because it generates the case studies that a majority of the MBA programs use – it just means they are the primary “vendor” of this product.  By the way, in addition to the actual case studies themselves, HBR (Harvard Business Review) Press is also a major publisher for many of the business schoolbooks that one will end up reading as part of any program.

Okay, so it’s not the teaching style.  Is it the brand?

Ah, now we are getting warmer but I think most would agree that while this has merit, it’s still not the real hidden value.  That said, however, this particular aspect of a program does lend itself, more than other aspects, to the real hidden value of an MBA program.

As I said in my previous post, “If you don’t get into (or don’t choose to go) to an Ivy leagues school, it almost doesn’t matter where you go”.

Let’s be realistic – if you can get into a Harvard, Yale, Wharton, and Stanford – more power to you.  The brand does carry significant weight and that will serve you well throughout your career (assuming you capitalize on it).  If you don’t, it will always look good on paper.

Okay, so it’s not entirely the brand – what is the real hidden value of an MBA program?

The network.

Translation – the people you go to school with.  Ergo, and this is where the brand comes in, if you go to an Ivy-league school, there is a good chance that your classmate may be the next POTUS.

I can tell you first hand that your network is the most powerful tool you will walk away with.  It’s not the program, the learning, or even the brand – it’s the network.  If built correctly, the network, will yield you benefits down the road that you cannot even possibly imagine today.

Think about it – the MBA program is almost like a 2-year long interview.  Your peers interact with you; they witness how you think, how you work, how you get along with others, and most importantly, they witness your output.  If you were a star performer, why wouldn’t they want to work with you outside of school?  In all fairness, regardless of your performance, if there isn’t chemistry between people, it doesn’t matter – you’re not going to get hired.  Otherwise, it’s a no brainer.

There you have it… the network is the greatest value that is often overlooked for its long term significance.  So, if you are looking into a program, study the network.  Find out demographics – what the graduated students are doing, where are they located, etc.  Location is important – the last thing you want to do is go to a school where a majority of the network is in one part of the country and you land up on the other side.  Distance will make the network harder to leverage.

If you are in a program and haven’t focused on your network – start now.  Finally, if you have already graduated and didn’t capitalize on your network while in school, it’s never too late – well, unless, you went to b-school 50 years ago… then I’d be surprised if your most of your network is still alive.

Network, network, network!

To your continued success…


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