There is a growing and urgent need for cutting edge skills, well-developed reasoning abilities and the aptitude to deal with complex business problems in today’s competitive business environment. These skills and competencies are often gained through an MBA programme and, as such, people need to be careful when choosing an institution for MBA studies, as there is a significant difference between top local business schools that are globally recognised and those simply making up the numbers.
That is why businesses in South Africa are becoming highly selective in choosing MBA candidates to fill leadership positions, according to Martin Butler, senior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).
“One of the first questions asked of applicants with an MBA is ‘Where did you get it?’ Employers often shy away from MBA schools that want to dump textbook management theory on problems. Good programmes use theory as a point of departure and then structure the arguments to solve practical problems.
“These problems allow for collaboration with industry to expand the horizons of the students to have richer discussions and solve problems in in their context,” says Butler.
He further explains that a reputable MBA should empower a student with the ability to converse in any aspect of business, essentially becoming a well-rounded business individual.
“For example, in the USB MBA, students learn about the individual’s role in business and the role of business in society. Society plays a large part in our MBA programme and from the beginning we emphasise the bigger picture, with a strong focus on society and the environment.”
Butler says the reasons people do a full-time MBA differs from the reasons for doing a part-time or modular MBA. Although research suggests that the investment in an MBA is typically paid back in about three and a half years, a higher-paid income is not the primary reason for enrolling for the degree.
“We often find that our MBA graduates leave with greater self-awareness than when they entered the school. For example, an engineer or accountant wishing to progress at a managerial level enter the programme searching for functional knowledge, such as finance, marketing and operations. They become aware of their own growth areas, which stretch far beyond the functional knowledge areas. It is not strange to see numerically-orientated engineers or accountants do a qualitative research report and develop excellent skills in a completely different area.”
However, Butler warns that an MBA is not for everyone.
“The MBA journey is a stressful one where students learn to deal with complex situations. It is a tough journey, and people who are not really keen, or who are looking for quick solutions to solve problems, should not study for an MBA. Focussing on the doors that the MBA could open is the wrong approach and the real learning will pass these people by.
“It is preferable to embark on this programme when you are ready to grow as an individual. Depending on one’s development journey, studying an MBA between five to 15 years into your career should be fine, because relevant work experience is needed to complement the MBA programme.”
Butler says that it is essential that a full-time MBA programme continuously develops and shapes itself around the needs of the market, in order to stay relevant.
“We believe in continuous improvement and each year the programme is incrementally updated. We go through a process where feedback from students and the market, as well as developments in the business world, are fed into improving the MBA. In 2013, for example, we are planning to pilot one or two new concepts with the full-time class with a view of incorporating it in 2014/5 in all the MBA programmes,” Butler concludes.