May 25, 2004

B-School Rants

B-School Issues

It seems to be open season on B-Schools.

First Mintzberg started with his new book "managers not MBAs" and now Rob at Businesspundit points to this Economist article which asks "are business schools teaching the right things"?

Some interesting views:

Jeffrey Pfeffer, from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, argues in a critical article† that the basic business proposition of business schools, especially those with MBA programmes, is “the enhancement of the careers, measured mostly in terms of salary, of their graduates”.


The most commercially wounding criticisms are those that appear to contradict the claim that an MBA enhances career prospects. There was uproar when, two years ago, Mr Pfeffer and Christina Fong argued in Academy of Management Learning and Education that there was little evidence that getting an MBA had much effect on a graduate's salary or career. “Usually it just makes you a couple of years older than non-MBA peers,” one source told them.

Roughly the reverse of Mr Mintzberg's complaint is the criticism advanced by Rakesh Khurana of Harvard Business School, who is writing a book on why management has failed to develop as a profession. He points out that other activities in which society prizes a sense of restraint, judgment and the pursuit of the common good, such as law, health care and religion, have evolved into professions. A surprising number of business schools, including Wharton in Pennsylvania and IESE in Barcelona, were founded by people who wanted to improve the ethical sensitivity of managers. (IESE, founded by Opus Dei, a Catholic organisation, still has religious statues and paintings in its principal rooms.) “At the heart of professionalism is the renunciation of certain things,” claims Mr Khurana. American managers have not obviously been keen on renunciation in the past decade.

and on the dichotomy between teaching and research

Part of the problem is the way that management research—like so many areas of knowledge—tends to explore ever more obscure topics as scholars seek out an unvisited niche. With reason, Ms Pearce is particularly baffled by so-called “critical management theory”. A description of this abstruse subject on the Academy of Management website announces that “Our premise is that structural features of contemporary society, such as the profit imperative, patriarchy, racial inequality and ecological irresponsibility often turn organisations into instruments of domination and exploitation.” Few are the companies happy to pay $50,000 for their top managers to learn that.

Pulling together research and teaching will be hard. “You are starting to get splits,” reports Roy Lewicki, editor of Academy of Management Learning and Education: “Contract faculty teach, and tenured faculty mainly do research and are better paid.” Perhaps the professionalisation of management teaching, recommended by those two reports of the late 1950s, has now gone too far. Perhaps management education would beat off its critics more effectively if it went back to its beginnings, and got more corporate managers to teach. It might be easier to train them to communicate properly with students than to get professional management academics to teach students to be good managers

I think we are seeing this in India too. Indian B Schools were never greatly reseach orientated. I think soon Indian organizations will also start their own internal Corporate Universities to get people trained on management skills in their specific contexts. Of course there already exist Birla Management Centre, Tata Administrative Service, Welcomgroup Management Institute, Oberoi School, Infosys Leadership Institute but I think soon there will be specific service providers who will trigger this in more small and medium businesses too !