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Journey to my MBA

Friday, September 15, 2006

Columbia Article: Why Business School is important to our economy

In a University Lecture delivered May 9, 2006, Dean Glenn Hubbard explains how business — and business schools — have helped drive economic growth and contributed to the success of entrepreneurial capitalism. University lectures are hosted once a semester by President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost Alan Brinkley, who select speakers to highlight leading Columbia faculty members and their recent achievements. Previous speakers have included Lionel Trilling, Jacques Barzun and Jagdish Bhagwati.

A university, by definition, knows no limits. Of course, having such a broad portfolio necessarily means conflicts over academic boundaries—each department believes it is closer to grasping the entire universe than all the others.

Some see the origins of all business, as well as all politics, in law. These people, not surprisingly, tend to be in the law school.

Cardinal Newman saw theology as the centerpiece of the academy. You often find likeminded people in the Union and Jewish Theological Seminaries.

Some believe their department actually has a theory of everything. You can find them in the physics department (or, as some of you might be thinking, the economics department).

But only in the business school will you find people who are so confident they believe they can actually manage everything.

Hubris, as you might have guessed, is a not-unnatural condition of academics. At the very least, I can humbly say I was deeply honored to be asked to serve as dean of one of the nation’s top business schools, one with an MBA program that ranks among the best in the world.

Many leaders in finance, industry, and the non-profit sector—in short, some of you present here—are MBAs—including Columbia MBAs. The MBA is even showing up in the bios of our national leaders, from Columbia’s own U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, to a certain Harvard MBA in the White House for whom I recently worked.

As an academic economist studying financial markets and the organization of industry, I was excited to be given the opportunity to serve as a business school dean. It came, then, somewhat as a surprise to me that the first challenge of my new job would be to defend the value of the university-based business school, the MBA, and, at times, the role of business itself in society.

Who would have thought that the ‘business school press corps’ was as tough as the Washington Press corps?

And yet the criticisms are there. A recent Business Week piece asked: “Is the MBA Overrated?” Now in business circles, that is shocking—somewhat akin to L’Osservatore Romano asking: Do we still need a pope?

Business Week found that only 146 of the 500 highest-paid executives at very large companies had MBAs. A 2002 Stanford study reported that: “What data there are suggest that business schools are not very effective: Neither possessing an MBA degree nor grades earned in courses correlate with career success . . .” And the quote continues: “And, there is little evidence that business school research is influential on management practice, calling into question the professional relevance of management scholarship.”

An even tougher take on business schools came from a Harvard Business Review article by Warren Bennis and James O’Toole saying that “MBA programs face intense criticism for failing to impart useful skills, failing to prepare leaders, failing to instill norms of ethical behavior—and even failing to lead graduates to good corporate jobs.” The reason? The authors say it is because too many of their professors, afflicted with what they puckishly call “physics envy,” waste too much on time on abstract research lacking real-world value.



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