To MBA or not to MBA, that is the question being asked by students, résumés, employers, executive recruiters and HR professionals.
Traditionally, MBAs were the preferred choice for those who aimed for leadership positions and reached for the top rungs of finance or management consulting or the C-suite of large companies. An MBA was also a bit cliched as a “golden ticket” to fast-tracked, corporate success, executive salaries and vague, ladder-climbing prestige.
For various reasons, during the past decade or so, MBAs have undergone a dramatic evolution. They have been transformed from a sacred must-haves for senior management positions into contemporary nice-to-haves in corporate careers, entrepreneurship and the business galaxy of high-techs and start-ups.
“The business landscape is constantly changing,” notes the upbeat Oleksiy (“Oleks”) Osiyevskyy, MBA program director and associate professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Haskayne School of Business. “Leading companies of today are facing accelerating environmental turbulence in the global marketplace. There are emerging disruptive technologies and business models, evolving societal perceptions of business, raising expectations about the role of business in solving global problems, digital transformations of industry value chains, challenges to international trade and misbalances in global capital markets. Not surprisingly, to remain relevant, the MBA programs need to constantly reinvent themselves.”
According to a recent benchmarking study of the MBA Roundtable Report on The Graduate Business School Curriculum, half of the surveyed business schools underwent a major curriculum revision in the last five years, and a majority expect significant further changes in the next five years. There’s consensus, in business and in academia, that MBA programs must keep evolving to address the warp-speed changing needs of business. According to the Report, the top 10 areas of instruction in core courses are: finance, accounting/financial, marketing, strategy, accounting (management), statistics, operations management, economics (micro), organizational behavior and leadership.
“The Haskayne MBA co-evolves with the Calgary business environment,” Osiyevskyy says with enthusiasm. “In the past our MBAs would find abundant opportunities in the oil and gas industry, today we must make sure that our graduates are well prepared for the positions in the new economy, helping to reinvent, diversify and grow the Alberta’s and Canada’s economic landscape.
“In the past five years, Haskayne has introduced new MBA specializations, such as Business Intelligence, Data Analytics and Management Analytics. Data is becoming the new oil and our graduates come well prepared for this new reality,” he adds.
“We provide our MBAs with the functional tools and knowledge they need to confidently step into a leadership role. In particular, we concentrate on Leadership Development, Strategic Thinking, Entrepreneurial Thinking, Supply Chain and Business Analysis, People and Organizations and Finance and Accounting.”
Haskayne’s MBA program also added integrated entrepreneurial thinking to the core MBA curriculum, identifying and successfully exploiting novel opportunities in the marketplace. “We make sure that our MBAs graduate equipped with in-depth entrepreneurial thinking concepts, including innovation, design thinking and business modelling,” Osiyevskyy explains with enthusiasm. “It can help MBA students acquire the management competencies in creativity and innovation development to transform the toughest business challenges into opportunities.”
Despite the tremendous business focus of Haskayne MBA programs, there are differences of opinion about the value and relevance of MBAs in the real-world of contemporary (and future) business.
“The unfortunate reality is that one of the few objective measures in assessing a large pool of applicants is grades,” explains the plugged-in and experienced Adam Pekarsky, founding partner of Pekarsky & Co., a leader in recruiting executives, advising boards and offering thought leadership in Western Canada for over 20 years. “So academic achievement is still relevant but should be thought of as table stakes. Because other qualities, like emotional intelligence, network, relatability, work ethic, empathy, hustle, tech savviness, are harder to assess than academic achievement, when considering to hire someone.
“The irony, of course, is that those other skills are actually considerably more important and valuable to employers. Employers want to know that anyone they hire, possesses the requisite grey matter and the preferred way to do that is by assessing academic achievement.”
After years of dealing with workplace employers and candidates, Pekarsky gently bursts the cliché of MBA as a golden ticket. “I wouldn’t say employers are asking for or expecting MBAs, but there’s no doubt they still have value. If it’s a competitive situation where employers have choice, preference is going to be given to the candidate with the MBA over the candidate with, a straight B.Comm.”
According to Michelle Partipilo, principal, executive search with the Calgary office of LHH, the global career solutions and talent development company: “An MBA is a good indication that the individual cares about investing in their education and is dedicated to personal and professional growth. It also provides the candidate with an additional differentiator and enhanced marketability, which could lead to better quality and quantity of jobs.
“But other qualities quickly supercede an MBA. For example, if a candidate stays with an employer long enough to have achieved corporate goals, fosters healthy working relationships, and leads with a client-first mindset.” From experience, she notes that: “The first round of a hiring process includes the identification of the relevant skills and experience in a candidate’s résumé necessary to excel in the job. These relevant skills are important to the employer to move the candidate into the next round of the evaluation process, compared to their level of education.
“Key accomplishments are more relevant than simply listing skills. Candidates can leverage their accomplishments to help demonstrate skills, such as through the completion of a challenging mandate or a project that led through to a successful conclusion.”
Ward Garven, managing director of Stanton Chase in Calgary has much experience recruiting high calibre candidates for Calgary businesses. He points out that, when it comes to résumé protocols and contemporary recruitment, academic achievement is as relevant and important as ever. “Employers are expecting the requisite baseline credentials for executive and future leaders positions. The pressures are high in terms of economic, competitive, societal, political, advancements in technology and shifts in globalization.
“Since the 2009 global financial crisis, employers have been checking the boxes of skills more so than experience. While this has continued, more important is the ability to identify and evaluate to experiences that can be validated in the public domain. Relying on skills listings does very little to determine what a person can actually do that contributes to realize benefits for the organization.”
Garven disputes the dated MBA-as-golden-ticket in business and adds that employers rarely, if ever, specify an MBA as requirement. “They are nice to have at the executive level but I have never seen a situation where an MBA is a mandatory minimum. In a competition, an individual with an MBA might have gained some prior special or distinct experiences and these might advantage that person to a specific need of the organization.”
With admitted and wonderful bias, Haskayne’s personable Oleks Osiyevskyy is realistic about the relevance and value of MBAs. “The three letters, MBA, next to a person’s name in themselves are rarely the main factor that determines recruitment or hiring decisions. Much more important are the opportunities for professional development and growth that an MBA program in a top university opens to a candidate. Successful MBAs take advantage of these opportunities and demonstrate this on their CVs and during the job interviews.”