Business Outlook: The MBA Gets Up Close and Personal

Harvard Business School student Danial Moon wears a sign reading "The MBA Oath" before Harvard University's 358th Commencement Exercises in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

By Randa Bessiso

The MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree is still the preeminent business/general management qualification and is highly valued by a wide range of employers and recruiters. It is a general management qualification that equips students for a career in business management, helping them acquire a broad perspective on a wide range of areas that they need to understand to operate effectively at a senior level.

Student motivations for getting an MBA vary from person to person, but there is some common ground. In many multinational organizations, the MBA is viewed as a prerequisite for a career in senior management as it exposes students to all the core areas of a business and gives them perspective and a set of tools, which makes them more effective in their roles. For others, it is a plan to switch careers, start a company, or move from a specialist role to general management.

Today, there are many good business schools and MBA programs to choose from, so students can look around and find the right combination of school and programs to meet their personal needs.

Choosing an MBA is a very personal decision, but building an initial shortlist of candidate schools based on reputation and ranking (the Financial Times annual MBA ranking, for example) and accreditation (triple MBA ranking is the gold standard) is a good start.

Prospective students may also want to look at global rankings for return on investment of various MBA programs. After that, students should look for the programs that best suit them, keeping in mind factors such as subjects, study formats, full time or part-time/blended learning, amount of face to face contact time with peers and faculty, international network and exposure, alumni network, careers support, entry criteria and cost. It is also a good idea to visit the school and meet current students and alumni, if possible, for deeper insights.

Ultimately, you only study for an MBA once in your life and so students should choose the best school and program – it should prove to be a transformational experience and a profitable investment.

What’s new in the MBA world?
The world of business has changed immeasurably compared to 1965, when the first U.K. business schools were set up. So how can business schools and the MBA keep pace with the rapidly developing demands of business skills needed in the 21st century?

Business is transforming at a rapid pace with whole industries undergoing change, driven especially by the forces of digital technology, usually in the hands of customers and consumers. Banking and finance, retail, healthcare and education are all going through this seismic shift which is disrupting traditional business models.

Businesses—companies and their employees—are also working differently in response to these changes; whether it’s a long established MNC, SME or a startup, everyone is looking at technology to create efficiencies, facilitate collaboration, and create new services for customers. Data is at the frontline of business and promise of new insights is creating excitement with the advent of big data/analytics. The potential for new streams of data could create novel ways of understanding customers, their needs and behaviors.

What does this mean for business schools?
Schools have to adapt to this changing pattern of businesses. With change moving so quickly, fewer businesspeople are able or willing to step away from the workplace for full time programs such as an MBA. More people want increased accessibility through part-time and self-study, greater levels of tailorable content, shorter programs to start getting the benefits faster, and more deeply personalized development elements as part of the program.

Of course, businesspeople investing in their own careers (and employers supporting their staff) also want quality assurance of a recognized program and qualification, and the richness of face to face contact with faculty and peers.

Online self-study will only take you so far, students learn from each other as well as professors, and the practical work experience of a fellow student or a team member in a group project can be very valuable.

A noticeable trend among MBA students is that the younger students are opting for part-time programs, a decision that mid-career, experienced professionals normally take. The new generation of business people want everything faster and earlier, to allow time to harvest the benefits through a career. So it is not unusual to see a two-year part-time MBA program now, delivering the same content as a full-time program through a specially designed blended learning program.

Soft skills and personalization are increasingly important to students; soft skill areas, from communications to the reflective manager, illustrate the growing importance of the intangible qualities of leadership and management beyond the technical and functional.

The professional and personal skills required—from leadership to creativity—are increasingly being packaged into executive MBA programs which may include a degree of personal development and even personal executive mentoring for students.

In a fast moving world, even an MBA is not an end but a beginning and the need for working professionals to stay fresh and up to date in their field is critical. Thus, ongoing executive education is proving to be a vital component of talent management programs for many companies as they seek to retain their top talent and attract new blood.

Randa Bessiso is Director – Middle East at Manchester Business School.


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