People have been heard saying that b-school graduates are so full of themselves that they can hardly walk straight. Some wonder how MBAs, who have huge loan burdens, can be arrogant and annoying instead of being humble and pleasing. Some others feel that MBAs “have no idea what they are talking about, most of the time.” MBAs’ most bitter critics believe “b-school graduates are colder than most people, and carry an attitude of “That’s business, like it or lump it,” to justify themselves.
Do MBAs deserve such harsh criticism? Are they really arrogant? The first defense of MBAs comes from predictable quarters: from MBAs themselves. Naturally, the most vocal are b-school graduates whose MBA degrees have helped them advance in their careers beyond their own dreams.
But there are also MBAs who are not so quick to give their compatriots a sparkling clean chit, saying some b-school graduates may be haughty and self-absorbed. But not all, they hasten to add. They argue that, in any case, MBAs who are arrogant don’t go very far in their careers though the sheen of their newly minted degrees may give them a promising start. They say it is the more down-to-earth lot that progress to high positions and earn truckloads of money and towering prestige.
If you ask people who don’t have MBAs but have done very well for themselves, you may get a more equitable view. They say that MBA students, particularly those at elite schools, quickly learn that in their world, people are valued in material terms, and success in life is measured by the size of your pay packet. Therefore, MBAs tend to evaluate people according to how wealthy they are.
A professor teaching MBA students says on an Internet forum that MBAs are smart but lack depth. B-school students eventually make double the salaries that their teachers earn. Students are keenly aware of this fact, and not all of them are able to appreciate scholarly achievement for its own sake.
Steve Shu, author and a Chicago MBA, says in defense of MBA graduates that the knowledge about business and the confidence that b-school students gain make them naturally proud of themselves, and what is seen as arrogance is only a part of this pride. But some students get a dramatic lift in compensation after earning their MBA degrees, and this goes to their heads. This is not unique to MBAs: there may be many others who get a career boost after higher studies and become proud—or arrogant—about their achievement.
John A. Byrne, Editor-in-Chief of Poets & Quants, says that MBAs are not “sharp-elbowed, greedy, and selfish creatures” who care only about money, prestige, and status. They are among “the most eclectic, diverse, and smart people” around. Yes, some of them are arrogant, but they are “admission mistakes” at really good b-schools. Arrogant MBA students are more common among schools in urban centers that attract hyper-competitive Wall Street-bound students, according to Byrne.
An INSEAD official says that he never met an arrogant student when he attended INSEAD and Wharton as an exchange student. Arrogance has everything to do with the individual student; b-schools don’t cultivate it. Although you might think you are likely to find vain and haughty students at a prestigious school, the fact is that most students are down-to-earth people, according to this official.
In an FT article, “Arrogant MBA students are products of role modelling,” Olaf Groth, management expert, asks: Are MBAs arrogant? If yes, then why are they arrogant?
Groth writes that if you mean MBAs are arrogant because they are opinionated, then they are probably that. Ultimately, business people have to make decisions. They also need to defend their point of view, act on it, and show results. Naturally, Western business schools have taught them to focus on their strong opinions, and their self-assurance may be interpreted as arrogance.
Groth says that MBAs seem to emulate personality types whom society seems to promote and reward: outspoken, Type-A folks, and “heroes” with strong and overbearing personalities. B-school students, who have for long observed this, also tend to follow this formula for success. “Business students are products of our pedagogy and role modelling,” and if we want MBAs to be humbler, b-schools “might have to drop their hubris too and change first.”
At least a few people feel that MBAs are not only arrogant but also mediocre—for them, MBA expands as “Mediocre but Arrogant”. A student blogger from the Smurfit Schools of Business, Dublin, Ireland, who attended a “Global Immersion Week” for MBA students at Yale, says many participants from top-branded schools had an air of self-importance, although students from lesser-known schools were not in the bit inferior to them.
The perception that MBAs are arrogant has become widespread mainly because of the smug overconfidence that students seem to have right from the time they enter b-school that they are going places in their careers. They feel corporate recruiters are going to queue up before them, begging them to accept their job offers.
The opinion that MBAs are mediocre and “worthless” takes root when companies hire MBAs thinking they will revolutionize their businesses. But unsurprisingly, MBAs, like other recruits, are unable to do that immediately, whatever degrees these new employees have. The truth is that MBA programs equip the student with a wide range of skills, which they may be able to use at some point to the benefit of their organizations. Expectations that they can perform some quick magic result in disappointment for their recruiters and a feeling that MBAs are not what they are trumped up to be.
Santiago Iñiguez, Executive President of IE University, Madrid, Spain, writes in a blog in LinkedIn Pulse, that a feeling of superiority is cultivated in MBA students in three phases. First, during the selection and admission process, through the refrain that their school selects only the best; two, during the course, when this feeling is reinforced; and three, before and after the program, when students are encouraged to apply only for top-paid jobs. Although there are ways to avoid excessive elitism, such as positive discrimination and alternative methods of assessment of person’s values, they are often dismissed as counterproductive.
However, along with the acceptance that many MBAs are arrogant, there should also be acceptance that the selection for admission, grants, assessment of work, and recruitment of MBAs are all based on merit, writes Iñiguez.
He says that in his inaugural speeches to new MBA students, he refers to Socrates’s words: “The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.” To reaffirm their self-worth with references to their membership of an elite group would be misleading, Iñiguez says.
The belief that MBAs are worthless is much simpler to argue against. For a start, MBAs gain a deep understanding of business management issues, finance, and technology, besides entrepreneurship, thanks to their programs. As they attend MBA programs along with other professionals from various industry sectors, they get to know about these sectors more deeply.
A Quora user feels that statements such as “an MBA is a waste of time” is mainly propagated by people who have not been able to attend a program because of lack of resources, time, or professional/educational achievement. Not all successful business people went to b-school. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule; they are not the rule.
An MBA alumna writes that MBAs are not hired because companies like the alphabet soup but because they want creative problem-solvers in their ranks. Getting an MBA is a very good idea for women to get on to a career path that will give them financial security and professional satisfaction, she writes.
However, there is an equally strong opinion that some MBAs are “useless at best and destructive at worst.” MBAs are too conformist and don’t trust anything new, according to some people. As conformists, they tend to go with the majority opinion, although they are perfectly able to think for themselves and should know better than most people.
Now, a sampling of the brickbats and jibes. According to a Quora user, MBAs have knowledge of only the basics of accounting or finance and have no understanding of statistical concepts such as variance, probability, risk, sampling, or inference. Yet another Quora user asks why b-school professors lecture about how to run a successful business instead of running one of their own. And many of us have enjoyed the commercial, “FedEx makes shipping so fast and easy even an MBA can do it.”
In an article in Inc.com, Nathan Furr, author and Professor of Innovation and Strategy at INSEAD, addresses the question why some celebrity entrepreneurs, among them Tesla founder Elon Musk, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and Intuit founder Scott Cook feel that MBAs hurt rather than help innovation. Furr counters this view, saying MBAs are trained to solve the large-company management problem, not the innovation problem. They are taught to “capture value from customers,” not to “create value” through innovation.
You can have mixed views about whether MBAs are arrogant or not, but you may have much less justification for calling them worthless if you look at recruitment. A Top MBA research of over 3,500 MBA employers has found that there was a 13 percent surge in hiring in 2017 compared with 2016.
For example, Bain & Company planned to hire 500 MBAs in 2018, up from 400 the previous year. Microsoft, according to 2018 reports, is reportedly hiring several hundred MBAs a year from 150 schools in 40 countries. So, MBAs are hardly worthless, at least now (c. 2018).
Read Value of an MBA.
Companies hire MBAs for their leadership talent, capacity to learn, smartness, people skills, and the ability to take stress. Organizations hope that their new MBA employees already have all these skills or will build up these skills over time. So, whether a company feels its MBAs are overpaid or not depends on its views about the impact their b-school graduates make.
But, as Sumantra Ghoshal, Founding Dean of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and former Professor of Strategic and International Management, once said, only 10 percent of managers have been found to have the right mix of energy and focus to make a difference to organizations. Going by this observation, only a few MBAs deserve the huge salaries that they are paid.
On b-school campuses, companies offer high salaries only to those MBAs who they think are likely to make an impact. The great packages are justified to the extent that companies are able to identify and recruit the best fresh talent available on b-school campus. But if only a few of them are eventually able to prove their managerial skills, you can safely say that at least a few MBAs are overpaid.
Now, how many of them would be honest enough to accept that?
What are your thoughts? Do you think MBAs are arrogant, worthless, and overpaid?
Most MBA applicants we work with are pretty nice. If you fall in the same category and looking for help with your MBA applications, drop us an email: info at mbacrystalball dot com
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10