Thanks for taking part in our discussion on the Value of an MBA, which drew great response from prospective and current MBA students and MBA alumni. The issue is not one-dimensional, and today's panelists provided some first-hand insight as they answered your questions.
On our panel was: Paul Bates, dean of McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business; Richard Powers, assistant dean at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management; Sean Bartman, senior manager at CIBC, Global Recruitment Strategies; Wayne Hoy, second-year student at University of Western Ontario's Ivey School of Business; and Andrew Fleming, alumnus from Queen's University MBA and an associate at the Royal Bank of Canada's Graduate Leadership Program.
Moderator Sharda Prashad is a business reporter at the Star who completed an MBA at the Joint Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program.
We've archived the discussion below. Comments are now closed - thanks for participating.
Q: My career goal is to be in management. If I were to specialize in general or strategic management, what are my chances of even landing a job in a management position? Would I be better of specializing in Finance?
McMaster Dean Bates: A strong quantitative foundation is a key asset, but specialize in finance only if you plan a career that is in finance, i.e. controller, CFO etc. Focus on your strengths and on your aspirations.
Q: What do you think of Joint MBA programs, such as MBA/J.D., or U.S. school that offers a Pharma.D/MBA program?
Assistant Dean Powers: I think these programs offer the best of both worlds to those inclined to pursue a professional designation. The professional programs have very little opportunity to provide business education and in every case, the candidates will be involved in some sort of busienss venture or environment when they graduate, be it a law firm or a hospital, etc. As an alumnus, I think I would have benefited from doing a joint program. They were not that popular at the time and I chose to do the programs (MBA and LLB) consecutively. I lost a year in the process and I think this was perhaps a mistake in hindsight.
Employer Sean Bartman: Joint programs offer the opportunity to further specialize your skills. These programs are great when you know what career path you are looking to pursue, and can help to set you up for success. Employers with positions that require specialized skills sets as well as business management skills will seek out graduates with degrees from these programs.
Q: As an employer is an MBA a "must have" or an "nice to have" or are you indifferent when evaluating experienced hires?
Employer Sean Bartman: From the employer perspective, it really depends on the position available. Many roles do not require and MBA or graduate degree. However, some do require that level of education. That being said, when considering more senior, highly skilled, or competitive roles, I think you will find the trend to show that if they do not note the MBA as a key requirement, it will certainly add to your competitiveness as a candidate in the selection process if you have one.
Q: What is the "Integrative thinking" model at Rotman's. Is it hype? What is the competitive advantage?
University of Toronto’s Assistant Dean: Integrative thinking takes us out of the "educational silos" that we often find ourselves in. In basic terms, it incorporates different functional areas together, rather than dealing with them separately, as in a real business situation. Accounting does not operate in isolation for example, it is a part of the whole business and if marketing does not produce any sales, the accounting function will obviously be affected. By offering courses in an integrated format, the class experiences more real life business situations and can adapt as both the information and the environment changes. It a more dynamic approach to business education and our students are embracing it.
Q: Will Rotman's most recently added major in Health Industry Management also be offered as a CO-OP programme for young students (i.e. lacking several years of relevant work experience) interested in completing their MBA's in this area of study for the Fall 2006 semester?
Assistant Dean Powers: That has not been determined yet, but it is something that we are looking into.
Q: A reader asks Andrew Fleming "As an alumnus, what do you know that you wish you knew before you did your MBA?
Alumnus Andrew Fleming: In deciding where to earn my MBA I looked at the top-ranked schools around the Toronto area and then selected my top pick based on how best the program suited my personal circumstances. For example, I decided on the Queen's MBA for science and technology program because it is a top-rated program that can be completed in one year and it is targeted at students with science/technology backgrounds. I also think that it is very important to visit the school before deciding to attend. This is a BIG decision so take the time to properly evaluate each school. Sit in on a few classes, meet current students and talk to professors before making your decision.
Q: A reader asks Wayne Hoy, "As a current student/alumnus how do you think pople choose their program?"
Current Student Wayne Hoy: During my selection process, my criteria were (in no particular order): eastern Canada or US (I am from Vancouver), mostly or exclusively case-based (due to the more interactive learning environment), and brand. Some of my colleagues also considered networking, career, and extracurricular opportunities among their key criteria.
Q: Do you feel that full-time MBA students have an advantage over part-time students when it comes to school services and networking opportunities?
University of Toronto Assistant Dean Powers: This really depends on the support systems that are set up to accommodate the PT students. As well, many of their courses are taken with full time students, so there really should not be that much difference. But that is a very fair question to ask recruiters.
Q: How does the specialization afforded by a P/T MBA compare wit hthe networking generalization of an Exec MBA? Is the "career acceleration" of an EMBA significantly greater than that of a part-time MBA?
University of Toronto Assistant Dean Powers: This is a good question, but difficult to answer. In reality, both are PT formats. At Rotman our PT MBA program stretches over 3 years and that is a fixed term. The EMBA is one year, but takes place in a more intense and compacted schedule. Aside for the terms, the EMBA is really for students with much more work experience (7+ years) in a management level position. The PT MBA's requirements are not that different from the full time program. Both offer similar classroom synergies. As for "career acceleration", I think the EMBA has greater potential, at least initially, because of the management experience candidates bring to the program.
McMaster Dean Bates: In my view the key issue is your personal circumstance. Part-timers will tend to have interaction with full-time students and therefore enjoy the enriched diversity that this will bring - certainly I observed this during my own lecturing in the MBA program. However the EMBA will bring you together with a group that have made a similar decision in terms of focus - in the long-run, it's about what the MBA will do for you 3-5 years out rather than immediately after graduation, so pick the study program that works for your schedule.
Q: What is the general consensus on online MBAs?
Employer Sean Bartman: We do not specifically target candidates with online MBAs, however we would give them the same consideration as any other applicant.
University of Toronto Assistant Dean Powers: There is no substitute for an in-class experience.
Current student Wayne Hoy: I would only enroll in an on-line MBA if it was absolutely necessary due to financial, family, or other circumstances. The daily interaction with my classmates, all of whom have diverse and unique backgrounds, is a particularly enriching experience.
Alumnus Andrew Fleming: An online MBA may work for some people but I learn more actively and therefore more effectively in a classroom environment. I prefer the face-to-face contact and live discussion that occurs in classroom situations. Besides, I think the networking and relationship developing aspect of an MBA is better achieved in a live class environment.
McMaster University Dean Bates: One of the really key distinctions of a graduate studies program from the undergraduate experience is the significant increase in-group study. So, unless, online offerings include a substantial element of group study, the value is diminished, in my view.
Q: Is an MBA from abroad from a great school (Ivey League) an asset with regards to a local job search?
Employer Sean Bartman: Certainly. Employers will often consider and hire MBA candidates that gained their degree from recognized international business schools. It can also be seen as an asset and sought after when specializations are offered that matches business needs.
McMaster Dean Bates: In my experience, wealth tends to follow competence and work-ethic, so ensuring that the school you choose brings you contact with faculty that can impart the competencies you will require is the most important issue. I also happen to believe that a co-op program, especially for younger students, is a critical element of bringing it all together. A key objective is building a framework for judgment.
Current Student Wayne Hoy: While Ivey is certainly a great school, I believe you are referring to the 8-10 Ivy League schools in the U.S. As I've mentioned before, I'm sure the technical education at all schools are comparable. At a local level, a local school with a good reputation will likely be on par with an Ivy League school. For example, Bay Street firms recruit heavily at local schools such as Ivey, Rotman, Queen's, and York. From this numerical perspective, you have a great chance of finding a local job by attending one of these schools.
Q: At a top-ranked MBA school, you're more likely to make influential contacts than at a lower ranked school. Is it still worth it to attend a lower-ranked school?
Employer Sean Bartman: If you have the option to attend a higher rated school, it can benefit you academically as well as professionally. Companies will typically go out of their way to ensure their presence and show increased recruitment efforts at these schools. However, don't be too quick to discount a lower-rated school. Any opportunity to gain new knowledge and grow your business experience can help put you at an advantage in your career.
Alumnus Andrew Fleming: I don't necessarily agree with the comment.
Current Student Wayne Hoy: The technical aspects of the education are probably identical at all schools. The technique for valuing a firm is the same whether you learn it at Harvard or at (insert low-ranked school here). Also, there are interesting people everywhere; people with different experiences and opinions than yourself who will enrich your experience. Many of the most precious relationships I've made aren't what one would typically consider as a traditionally influential one. That being said, a higher ranked school does attract "more influential contacts", and if that is your most important criteria, then a lower-ranked school is unlikely to suit your requirements.
Q: Hasn't the increasing number of MBAs, from an increasing number of educational institutions offering the program, decreased the value of the MBAs? Also, doesn't the increase in MBAs correlate to lower entrance standards?
Employer Sean Bartman: From a business perspective, there is still considerable value in an MBA. While there may be an increase of institutions offering new MBA programs, the opportunity falls to them and their graduating students to prove the value in their program. Established programs will have a history and proven track record to speak to their quality. These are things that companies consider in the selection process.
McMaster Dean Bates: More and more we are seeing the MBA "plus," i.e. MBA, plus a law degree, an accounting designation, or an engineering degree, or a degree in the life sciences, so that graduates go out into specific fields of endeavor with strong technical knowledge in a given discipline, complimented by an advanced business degree. And entrance requirements, generally, remain high. What has changed in recent years is an acceptance process that looks beyond the numbers (i.e. GMAT scores) and considers the whole person, their experiences and activities.
University of Toronto, Assistant Dean Powers: Not at all, in fact, the numbers show fewer people writing the GMAT, which would suggest decreased enrolments in the future. We have not lowered our standards and have not noticed a decline in applications so far. There has been an increase in the number of international applicants.
Q: When should I consider going back to school? Is it worth the effort? I'm a fourth-year software engineering student.
Employer Sean Bartman: Many graduate programs today have student bodies with vast arrays of industry experience. Spending a few years in the workforce before continuing your education can provide you with real world experience that will help you make the most of your class time and overall learning experience. You will likely also find that you have an increased ability to contribute, relate to, and understand the offerings of others.
McMaster, Dean Bates: Interestingly, we recently surveyed a group of final-year engineering students as well as recent engineering grads on this very question, and found a strong need for business training to compliment their engineering degree. Some wanted a "diploma" type course in business, but many saw themselves pursuing an MBA.
University of Toronto Assistant Dean Powers: I would suggest 2-4 years of work experience as you will have completed your P. Eng by then and be in a better position to benefit from the learning process and the material covered in the program.
Current Student Wayne Hoy: I was also essentially a software undergrad, although my degree was in Computer Science. You should definitely work in industry for several years before going back to school for an MBA. This is particularly important in case discussions, especially at a school like Ivey that is purely case based, since the varying experiences of the class are a vital component of the discussion process. Also, you need to determine if an MBA is right for you. Again, real-world industry experience is the only way to answer that question. You may love software engineering, and despise the business aspects. Regarding whether the degree is worth the effort, for me, five years in software development led my career to a point where an MBA was vital for my future development. I hope the MBA will put me on the career fast track, rather than learning the relevant skills on the job.
Q: Will there be a significant ROI of investing $75,000 to $90,000 on an EMBA at the age of 42?
Employer Sean Bartman: This is specific to the individual. However in terms of dollars (or how long it will take you to break even from the 90K spend), it really depends on where you are in your career today, your short-term goals, and your long-term goals. Understanding these will help you determine the career opportunities available to you, what value can come from them, and what value an MBA can add, if any.
Alumnus Andrew Fleming: I think that depends on your previous work experience. A colleague of mine with many years of experience changed careers completely and has great earning potential now because his previous work experience is a very strong asset to his new company.
Q: Is completing an EMBA worth it as a senior manager in a non-profit and with a background completely in non-profit as well?
McMaster Dean Bates: I've had the privilege of working as a volunteer with a number of non-profit organizations over the years - they are as complex, if not more complex, that for-profit organizations, with leadership challenges that exceed those of for-profit enterprises. An EMBA can definitely help you.
Q: I have a B.Comm Degree, would an MBA add much more value? In terms of both knowledge and salary?
McMaster Dean Bates: Indeed it will, in my view. While you will have a great grounding, the MBA will really take you to a greater level in terms of applied analysis and reasoning.
University of Toronto Assistant Dean Powers: There are advantages of group - based learning and the information gleaned from classmates and their work and professional experience. Granted the first year of the MBA can cover very similar material to a B.Comm, however the second year takes the subjects to a much higher level and incorporates more real business simulations that you just do not get at the undergraduate level. Some schools are offering advance standing for B.Comm grads and this makes sense in many respects, particularly if the B.Comm is from the same school.
Employer Sean Bartman: Management is a very broad term. Specializing in general management can give you core transferable skills that can be applied to various businesses. It would be wise to specialize in this area if you are not yet certain of what type of business you are looking to manage. Selecting more of a specific stream, like finance, can help you in gaining targeted positions, in climbing the corporate ladder, and with your overall ability to perform in a role. However very specific streams can sometimes make it more difficult later on if interested in transferring to a different stream. If you are not sure what is best for you to pursue, speak with your local MBA Career centre, students currently in the various programs, or visit employer information sessions to ask questions of the recruiters and business people currently in these roles.