do MBA’s actually become good managers?

Henry Mintzberg raises the hypothesis that business schools aren’t terribly good at training managers:

This is one question these centers of research do not study. We made an exception. A decade after its publication in 1990, I looked at a book called Inside the Harvard Business School, by David Ewing. (The first line was “The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world.” Unfortunately he might have been right.) The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who “had made it to the top”—the school’s superstars as of 1990. My attention was drawn to a few people who would not have been on that list after 1990.

So Joseph Lampel and I studied the subsequent records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that the company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable at least. Some of these 14 CEOs built up or turned around businesses, prominently and dramatically, only to see them weaken or collapse just as dramatically.

Mintzberg also notes that few people seemed interested in his analysis. It’s like a medical school ignoring a study showing that all their graduates kills their patients.

My view on these findings is (a) I need some counter factuals – do non-MBA holders do any better? and (b) an assessment of selection effects – maybe at risk companies tend to over-recruit MBA’s in a desperate attempt to save the ship. Mintzberg is definitely onto something important. It is not entirely clear how a lot MBA training translates into making the tough decisions that CEO’s are often faced with.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in business schools, fabio

3 Responses

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  1. Thought Provoking …


    Santosh Sali

    December 18, 2014 at 10:54 am

  2. I think this is an instructive starting point for thinking about how you should study this question. However, the idea that you can measure the effectiveness of an MBA program’s adequacy on the performance (decades in the future) of the few who become CEOs is quite implausible.

    What is does an MBA mean anyway? An MBA student can concentrate in accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, strategy and a host of other specialties only vaguely related to managing people, let along running a company. I don’t expect an accountant to necessarily be good at executive decision-making and someone with a background in marketing may not be the right fit for a company in a commoditized market.

    That said, I think this is a wonderfully interesting question and would love to see a defense of this method or what can be learned from it. After all, preparing future leaders is an important job the b-schools claim to do.



    December 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm

  3. Reblogged this on b+wequalsgray.



    December 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm

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