When you hear about the career paths of entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson or Sir Alan Sugar, who have achieved phenomenal success without going in to higher education, many people will rightly ask ‘What is the point of business education?’.
However I think it is worth reflecting on the experience of Sir Richard, who has openly spoken in recent years of his wish that he’d had the experience of higher education. Sir Richard or Sir Alan are certainly impressive exceptions but one only needs to look at the many more who have made it big because of their business education – Michael Bloomberg, Robert Kraft and Meg Whitman are just three great examples.
So why undertake an MBA or similar business qualification?
Firstly, I’d argue an MBA is an upskilling shot-in-the-arm. An ordinary Masters degree typically focuses on a narrow specialism. So while it will help you gain a deep level of knowledge in a certain subject, which may be preferable for certain roles, it is not necessarily broadening your skill-set. MBAs on the other hand are aimed at honing your entire managerial skill-set covering everything from management to marketing to accounting.
If you’re someone who is really looking to take your career to the next level then significantly boosting a broad range of skills is often exactly what you need to boost your career progression and development. This may be especially pertinent if you are concerned you may be about to hit a ‘career ceiling’ or you feel your career is becoming or might soon become a cul de sac. An MBA makes it easier to change direction by increasing your generic skills and knowledge.
Secondly, an MBA is a very clear signal to an employer. It says that this person cares about their career and has been willing to personally invest in giving themselves the skills to make sure they stand out from the crowd. When you’re on the hiring side of the table you’d be surprised to know what a difference this makes. Wouldn’t you want someone working for you who you know doesn’t just do their job to pay the bills but has actively taken the opportunity to hone their business skills?
Thirdly, one of the most valuable elements of an MBA is not necessarily what happens at the front of the classroom but who you are in that classroom with. On each and every MBA course there are a range of fascinating people, each of whom have their own unique back stories and experience. Meeting them and hearing their views and challenges is a valuable experience known formally in the industry as peer group learning.
While you’ll always be studying with a unique range of people, numerous people have told me that peer group learning is most valuable when you’re studying with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Different cultures bring different styles and experiences – and often ones that you won’t have previously been exposed too. So make sure you look into the diversity of the institution you want to study at – it could be more valuable than you think.
To sum up if you’re looking to boost your career then business education is an incredible opportunity. There will continue to be those who succeed without formal business education – but they will be far outweighed by those who thrive because of it.
Professor Maurits van Rooijen is rector and chief executive at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF)
Further reading: Using video to prepare students for the workforce