Today’s Wall Street Journal reported the results from the latest WSJ/Harris survey of recruiter opinions of MBA programs. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business regained the top spot. Being among the elite comes with some perks… such as $100k starting salaries for grads with no real experience, donations to build $150 million buildings, and the ability to charge $40k+ for tuition.
We’ve discussed at length the problems with inexperienced MBA’s, so I won’t belabor those points again. However there are some bizarre contradictions in the article. When asked what Michigan’s major shortcomings were, the top was "too much engineering focus." But at the same time the top strength was "analytical and problem-solving skills." I thought that was the primary benefit of engineering school was the resulting analytical mindset… which is why engineers are in such high demand in pretty much every industry.
And another major shortcoming was "attached to a declining business center – Detroit." But at the same time the recruiters liked that the MBA’s had prior experience with the auto business "because they bring more credibility as consultants" and "can speak intelligently on all sorts of issues facing the auto industry." That experience is apparently valuable "as automotive clients move away from the generalist consulting model and seek specialists to assist them during this transformational period for the industry."
Transformational indeed. If Detroit is going to hire those Michigan MBA’s because they value their experience acquired within their industry, then we might as well write off GM and Ford right now. Bill wrote about this very problem over a year ago. Nothing like a little inbreeding to create fresh ideas from a new perspective. Maybe those auto execs are hoping that some magical knowledge infusion took place within the hallowed Ross halls.
Nothing against Michigan MBA’s. I’m very confident that the "too much engineering focus" gives them a leg up on the "strategy/M&A/traditional finance focus" of the likes of Harvard MBA’s… if you really want an inexperienced MBA in the first place. But maybe that engineering focus will give some of them a desire to actually visit a factory floor every now and then.
But instead of hiring a bunch of inexperienced grads for $100k a pop to analyze their businesses, perhaps they should just peer into their backyard… at a very successful competitor’s plant in Georgetown. Some simple lessons: value employee knowledge, collaborate with suppliers instead of bashing them into submission, figure out what your true costs are, and focus on internal waste reduction instead of trying to innovate your way out of a pit. It’s really not that hard… it just takes leadership.
You don’t need an MBA, even a Michigan MBA with too much engineering focus, to tell you that.