Readers Weigh In on MBA "Monsters"

Last Updated Apr 20, 2009 11:51 AM EDT

The Back to B-School report on Dr. Peggy Cunningham's comments that MBA programs' focus on individualism essentially produces "monsters" really struck a chord with readers. The comments poured in, and here are a few that sum up the major positions readers took on this issue.

Cunningham is right

Many people, such as klatkas, left comments seconding Cunnigham's position:

The focus of obtaining a MBA for a student should not only be a higher salary. The focus of a company hiring a MBA should not only be to make more money through this hire. As long as these are the primary goals for both company and student (and make no mistake, they are the ultimate and primary goals for both student and company), we will never change the greed factor with regards to going to B-school.

Reader may08 thinks the problem is especially prevalent in the "elite" schools:

MBA's at A-schools can equally if not more be attributed if you follow some of that logic. A-schools are filled with past generations of those that gained from the exact individualistic greed mongering that you feel has put us where we are today.

Sticking up for MBAs

Others wrote to defend MBAs. Some MBA candidates and graduates, such as Catania, commented on the emphasis of teamwork and ethics in their schools:

The program consisted of various aspects of business including risk management and ethics. Team effort was the crux of virtually every class assignment. Although there were individual assignments, I was basically part of a team.

Kkweeks added:

I cannot speak for all MBAs but one of the core skills taught in my program is staying flexible to the changing needs of the market. Therefore, my MBA program was centered on teamwork and a large portion of my education focused on ethics, accountability, and social responsibility....I find it unfair and narrow-minded to group all MBAs into the greedy, Sherriff of Nottingham stereotype.

A few, such as jmonson, stuck up not for MBAs, but for individualism itself:

I, personally, do not work for the collective. I work for myself, so that I can feed my family, pay my mortgage and hopefully go on vacation once per year. Individualism is what allowed me to go from a poor single mother working in a factory to a successful human resource manager.

Sticking up for Cunningham, if not agreeing outright

While many readers hastened to point out the complexity of the problems facing the economic sector, some believe that Cunningham's focus on MBAs makes sense. As pkseshan wrote:

Imbalances can and do exist in -- personal values as well as the environment. In Dr. Cunningham's comments, I see someone who has detected specific imbalances in the imparting of management education. She is therefore making the effort to correct the imbalance. I do not see these comments as a finger of blame pointed exclusively at B-schools or MBA programs.

Added Aparna Vishwasrao:

I would not say MBAs have contributed to the current crisis outright, but it is a systemic issue and needs to be tackled as Dr. Peggy Cunningham is doing at the input stage, i.e. at the university level. It is necessary that we as corporate citizens are able to strike the balance between individual success, company performance and social responsibility.

Looking deeper than MBAs

While some readers agreed with Cunningham's points about individualism and ethics, they stressed that the problems aren't merely symptomatic of MBA programs. As Elmioo commented:

The business environment that has dominated has fostered what the MBA courses teach, but what about the non-MBA entrepreneurs that showed the same behavior? To give just one example, I knew many mortgage brokers, who had no graduate training (if that), who made hundreds of thousands over the last four years, at the expense of all the people they signed on to mortgages they didn't understand and couldn't pay. Doesn't that exemplify individualistic ignorance and greed?

A few readers, such as Jose Molineros brought pop culture into the discussion as well:

Popular culture, business culture and MBA programs all have emphasized (and 'exalted' if you will) the cult of individuality to the detriment of society at large....I was watching The Celebrity Apprentice and one of Trump's favorite quotes is "life is vicious" and he used that to justify the nastiness of his boardroom behavior. The fact that we admire him as a role model in business has something to do with the real cause of the crisis. Ethics education does not oppose his view of things, or even behavior. We need something deeper.

The discussion rages on, not only on this blog, but at Business Week, where Kenneth Lord defended the MBA last week, as well as the Harvard Business website, where the "How to Fix Business Schools" discussion has recently included posts on cheating MBAs and making ethics an admissions requirement. It seems this topic won't be dying down any time soon.

Monster image by Flickr user KB35, CC 2.0

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.