Taking Notes: Eye on Education – MBAs

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org


A recent newspaper report asked the question, “Has the MBA lost its lustre?” The article discussed the new trend toward liberal arts degrees as the preferred training in the business world, concluding that an MBA is no longer a ticket to wealth and success. Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management studies at McGill university, has written a book entitled Managers, not MBA’s, in which he argues that management programs are not training students properly, turning out self-interested individuals who have little concern for the long-term interests of the company and are lacking in the “art and craft” of running a business. In an effort to support his theory, Mintzberg uses examples such as the corrupt Enron culture, and the administration of Harvard MBA graduate George W. Bush.

The managing director of MIT’s Entrepreneur Centre (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Ken Morse, is in agreement. He teaches a “charm school” for MBA’s in which students are guided away from the “obnoxious, outrageous, egregious sense of entitlement” demonstrated by many MBA grads in the workplace. His program recommends that students join a company with the attitude that for the first year or so they will “know less than all the secretaries” (Jackson, 2004).

What are the implications of this trend for students? One executive search consultant stated that many recruiters are not impressed by an MBA that follows a Bachelor of Commerce, viewing these as interchangeable. She suggests that students would be better off with a liberal arts undergrad degree – since a liberal arts degree teaches how to research and read, how to learn and how to think.

Mintzberg himself has been named one of the Top 10 management thinkers in the world by the Financial Times, and he has developed an MBA program that is open to working managers only, one that incorporates this important liberal arts-type learning.

Athabasca University, however, has already been doing this for the last ten years! AU’s Executive MBA is a progressive program that has been transforming management thinking and practice, challenging the traditional MBA culture that Mintzberg derides – hence the name: Centre for Innovative Management. Management experience is a key admissions criteria for the program, and the training focuses on application in the workplace. AU’s MBA students are graduates who demonstrate the ability to think, research and read – those highly-desirable skills that recruitment companies seek.

Jackson, J. (2004). Has the MBA lost its lustre?: Lowly liberal arts degree is once again the business world’s preferred basic training. Edmonton Journal, August 31, 2004.
Henry Mintzberg: http://www.henrymintzberg.com
Athabasca University Centre for Innovative Management: http://www.mba.athabascau.ca
Not all MBA’s are Created Equal, Dr. Lindsay Redpath, Executive Director, CIM: Letters to the Editor, Edmonton Journal, September 2, 2004.