Slinging mud at the MBA makers

Gravy Training
November 20, 1998

Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove have interviewed several hundred people from around the world - including deans, CEOs, human resource directors, employers, faculty and others closely associated with business schools - to produce a provocative contribution to the business school debate. They recognise that the business and management education market has grown significantly and provide some useful data. They ask: have business schools achieved what they were set up to do? Readers will have to decide for themselves, as this book does not provide an unbiased view.

The writing style is confrontational, using in the main negatively focused quotes, as well as discrete sections titled "gravy tales". These are anecdotes on the failings of business schools, mostly anonymous, giving a tabloid feel to what could have been a more interesting debate. To prevent the reader missing these "tales", they appear in heavily shaded boxes. For the insider, this is interesting gossip, but I wonder whether a balance of best-practice examples and recent innovations would not have made this a more valuable contribution. The success of business schools appears to be taken for granted by the authors and they have few praises to sing.

They tackle key issues, such as the ability of business school faculty to originate new management thinking and suggest that "schools should fire their faculty and then rehire them as freelancers" to create the necessary intellectual incentives. The authors conclude that most schools run certain activities, such as executive development, like businesses but castigate the same schools for fund-raising, which they view as the domain of charities. Similarly, the attractiveness of MBAs is recognised, but their effectiveness as managers is questioned. The conventional degree format is favoured over niche markets such as "church management", which receive no praise.

Crainer and Dearlove believe that business schools are at a crossroads and predict that not all will or should survive. They recognise that market forces are bringing about changes in the way schools recruit, teach and undertake research and, rightly in my view, challenge the learning process. They predict more market segmentation and suggest some helpful hints for the successfully challenged to compete more effectively.

The authors would like more women to attend business school programmes, recognising that they are under-represented across most organisations. They see a role for business schools to redress the societal imbalance and rather tamely suggest "affirmative action in some way" is required.

Some leads are offered in the final chapter. The importance of the learning organisation is recognised, and Peter Senge's contribution in this area is summarised adequately. They suggest we should all be international, but criticise the University of Chicago for having only "6 per cent of foreign participants on executive programmes". The fact that the teaching may be done by Nobel prize-winners is conveniently forgotten. A later section suggests that schools should move away from functional disciplines and deal with real problems. They suggest that European schools are leading their United States counterparts on this front. Partnerships with business and other schools are a positive recommendation, which many schools have already put into practice. For those still unconvinced about this, it would have been useful to have some success stories.

In the style of the book, I must end with a quote. It ends with "remember that management is pocket science not rocket science". Such insight will take business schools far.

Raymond Madden is director of executive development, City University, and former director of research support, London Business School.

Gravy Training: Inside the Shadowy World of Business Schools

Author - Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove
ISBN - 1 900961 68 7
Publisher - Capstone
Price - £16.99
Pages - 8

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