What does Australia know about the MBA?

Yesterday I was speaking to a recruitment consultant about a role that I thought might be suitable for an MBA graduate from MBS.  The role involved giving advice to franchisees with regard to improving the performance of their franchise.

When I had finished explaining the background of MBS graduates the recruiter said “The MBA is by-the-by, what my client is really interested in is the person’s experience.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this dismissive attitude towards a life-changing degree that I, along with several thousand other MBA students and alumni, have invested so much time in.  It was frustrating and disappointing – especially because I know first hand that the degree makes a huge difference to the overwhelming majority of students who study for it.

I think it’s fair to say that in Australia – and particularly compared to the United States – there is still a much lower level of awareness of the MBA.  I believe that this problem could potentially be overcome with greater collaboration between local business schools, increasing advertising, and alumni themselves helping to strengthen awareness of the degree through advocacy with colleagues, in the media and even, very simply, on their business cards.

Another challenge I think the MBA faces is that in Australia perceived high-achievers can be cut down to size, rather than encouraged or promoted.  We all know about the “Tall Poppy” syndrome, and I wonder whether this will hinder the country’s attempts to become the academic powerhouse of Asia?

Ultimately, the concern that experience is valued more than potential, might see talented Australians (and potential migrants) looking elsewhere for career advancement and growth opportunities.  None of us want this – it would be detrimental to the nation as a whole not just us, as MBA graduates.

I wonder how as a School, and as alumni, we can begin to grow awareness in Australia of just how powerful an MBA can be for us as individuals, for the organisations in which we work, and the communities in which we live?

I don’t have all the answers.

Perhaps you do.

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12 Responses to “What does Australia know about the MBA?”

  1. Mark Condon - Director of Talent Acquisition Asia, Talent2 Says:

    Hi Ed,

    As a a former PT MBA MBS student (now at Nanyang) and working in the Talent Acquisition Market in Asia , I agree that many in leadership positions have not embraced MBA’s as they have in EMEA or the US, instead preferring “nouse” and “street smarts” than the skills developed at a school such as MBS.

    The recruitment sector probably hasn’t helped this in not challenging the status quo but I’m not sure it’s their role to do so. They are normally working with pre-existing JD’s, although the best will challenge and help define the JD’s. The change process needs to occur within the companies themselves.

    It is probably tall poppy syndrome in part, but possibly the MBA schools need to be targeting those very senior in HR, OD and Leadership Development as well as leveraging thier current alumni at senior levels to sell the benefits with case studies with empircal data of how MBA’s can add value to companies, their bottom line and in which roles. I’m sure this is being done already in some way.

    The fact is an MBA is not everything and cannot replace communcation skills, plain common sense and cultural fit, but it does provide a great skill set, a terrific life experience, great mental discipline, an understanding of self and how to work in teams cohesively. Maybe we aren’t selling the right benefits to clients and compellingly enough? Just a thought.

    Good luck.

    • edcookmbs Says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment, I do agree with you regarding targeting senior MBS Alums in OD, HR etc. This is the approach I’ve been taking as generally you don’t need to try and convince them that the MBA is a worthwhile qualification to have. I’ll look into whether any research has been conducted to quantify the value an MBA contributes over the course of a career. It would also be interesting to find out the percentage of senior management with postgrad qualifications in Australia in comparison to the US and Europe.

      I not sure if you remember meeting me about 4 years ago at Talent2’s offices in Melbourne, I think I was working at NAB at the time.

      Kind regards,

      Ed

  2. Luke Meehan Says:

    Ed – What a great topic.

    Mark – I hope all is going well with your transfer. I think your second last paragraph is spot on.

    Ed – I’m sure quite a lot of resources will go into the merger of MBS and Melbourne Uni’s Commerce Dept. Possibly this is the catalyst to reach out and sell the benefits of the MBA to the Senior HR, OD and Leadership Development teams. I wonder if a budget has been set aside for communication to traditional Melbourne Uni employers. Could the alum assist in inviting these individuals to an update on the repercussions of the merger? – Alum could ensure you ‘fill the seats’ and would be a great way to update the schools CRM.

    If education is one of the answers to this problem, MBS/Melb Uni should be well positioned to deliver on this.

    • edcookmbs Says:

      Hi Luke,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure whether any resources have been allocated to communicating the increased relevance to a wider range of employers of the merged MBS/FEC entity. I do agree that this would be an opportune time to reengage with employers that have hired MBA grads in the past and engage with traditional hirers of FEC graduates. I’ve suggested a couple of careers staff should communicate the changes in the market, everything is a bit up in the air at the moment and am not sure what plans have been put in place. Maybe we should have a breakfast to communicate the changes and ask Alums to invite HR Directors within their respective organisations.

      Thanks for your suggestions.

      Kind regards,

      Ed

  3. Hi Ed

    I have to agree with your prospective client. I accept, however, that it depends at which level the client is recruiting. MBAs are useful, but not essential. Experience wins everytime at senior levels – MBAs are a bonus. At junior levels, MBAs show a willingness to learn and develop – and can therefore differentiate a candidate in a two horse race.

    In Australia, schools need to be harder tp get into, need to increase fail rates and need to align the curriculum to the leading international schools.

    B

  4. Hi Ed, I have experienced this first hand – I will be completing my final exams next week and have had every recruiter tell me that I had “a whole lot of book knowledge and nothing practical” by completing a MBA. Problem is, when I apply for jobs at the same level I am now, I’m told that I am overqualified, if I apply for anything higher, I dont have enough experience.

    The executives who are willing to talk about this topic are saying that they feel threatened by thirty-something “youngsters” coming in with more education, because some of them only finished high school. I think there is a ‘changing of the guard’ coming up in the next 10 years or so as baby-boomers begin to retire and hopefully then MBA’s will be more valued.

    Until then I may have to watch from North America, where I had 3 job offers in 2 weeks without even trying, while on holidays there….

    • Hi Katie,

      I think part of the problem is that a lot of undergrads are carrying on to their Masters without gaining work experience. Employers therefore jump to the conclusion that MBA = Masters = all theory, no experience. Whereas the majority of MBA graduates do have relevant work experience.

      Kind regards,

      Ed

  5. Hi Ed.

    Thanks for the topic and also to the others with their thoughts to make this interesting conversation worthwhile.

    There are a few things that I would like to suggest. The first question is really about the opportunity to raise awareness of the value an MBA brings.

    I dont have an MBA but most people with one tell me that it gives them the academic training to draw their commercial experience together. IF this is true, then raising its value is probably best done at the ground level. In other words instead of doing the MBA out of sight, isn’t there an opportunity to bring it into the office and as the course progresses? Why not have the student is mentor others on the topics they are learning?
    a) the student will benefit from higher retention of studied material
    b) the company will benefit from the input and improvements as a result
    c) the motivation of others to upskill must be improved
    d) the team would bond on another level
    e) there would be greater appreciation of the business end of any job in a company
    e) knowledge alone is not powerful, it is the application of knowlege and the leverage of teams that has exponential power

    The second point in your introduction I find interesting is that recruiter’s view that experience is king… well, only successful experience is, and I am sure that was a given. I respectfully encourage anyone to read Steven Covey – 7 Habits of highly effective people and ‘begin with the end in mind’ . I doubt that anyone would begin an MBA without a very clear end in mind… that applies to most things.

    What is perhaps more interesting is that the insecurity of people can often play a part in the hiring process to the detriment of all… especially when the under-capable hiring manager feeling insecure. It could be argued that ignorance leads to misunderstandigng… to suspicion… to doubt.. to fear or insecurity … to resentment. Was the recruiter in this case an and MBA graduate? or was their client insecure or just ignorant? It does not really matter. What does matter, is that we can only really apply knowledge when we understand its purpose. So ‘begin with the end in mind’ and in this instance, the end is to help students and graduate of MBAs to appreciate that it is really their responsiblity to help people like me appreciate how their qualifications deliver a desireable outcome. This dovetails with another of Covey’s principles, ‘create win-win’ from the applied and leveraged knowledge.

    Finally, think that MBAs are often marketed by the schools or Unis as Exclsuive and Elite. Could this play a part in polarising opinion? Maybe.

    Personally, I think only Lawyers should use their knowlege as a weapon, for the rest of us, ‘win-win’ is the key. Whether you are a graduate or an an experienced executive, the secret is to think win-win and share your knowlegde; the solutions will evolve and morph according to the strength of the team and the scale of the challenge.

    Thank you and best regards,
    Julian Fellows
    A head hunter in ICT since 1994

  6. Delta Mike Says:

    Hi Ed,
    Not sure if you are still monitoring this site but I just discovered it after going through a frustrating time trying to find a role where I can put MBA skills to the test. Similar responses of either ‘overqualified’, or a vague excuse from a young HR manager seem to be the norm. I’m 40+ & have had years of diverse experience prior to deciding on an MBA (I’m half way through!)
    Hope that Australia begins to see the value in this unique qualification before we all get jacked off and move overseas to take jobs!
    Regards,
    D

  7. Hi,

    I’m still monitoring comments made on the blog, albeit infrequently! Thanks for your comment, I think the key lesson for Australian MBA’s is not to focus on the qualification in isolation but package it with experience in order to make oneself more attractive to an employer. I think education in general suffers from “tall-poppy” syndrome in Australia, which is a shame as it will lead to a less educated society.

    Cheers,

    Ed

  8. Dear Ed,

    Within the given context, I think it all comes down to selling the hard skills that one might develop while undertaking the MBA. How are the quantitative and qualitative analytical skills developed during the MBA, going to save the franchisor/franchisees money or increase their revenues?

    Within the franchise context, an MBA might be able to run key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify organisational and/or performance-based inefficiencies, leading to potential cost savings. Combined with previous operational experience, the MBA may also be able to help the franchisor/franchisees implement the identified improvements, in order to realise the cost savings, which would be a further value add.

    Other examples might include the development of new pricing models, process improvements, make or buy decisions, etc. – Highly marketable skills that one would typically acquire while undertaking an MBA at MBS.

    Best regards,

    John

  9. Dear Ed,

    Further to my previous comments, based on my own first-hand experience, it is much more difficult to sell the benefits of an MBA in Australia than in other parts of the world, such as in Europe.

    The key reason being is that it is a given in many parts of Europe that hiring managers would typically be knowledgeable of the specific skill sets developed within an MBA and how they can be applied to generate value for an organisation. This is mainly due to the fact that as a percentage of the population, in comparison to Australia, more people possess such qualifications in Europe, including baby-boomers. This naturally increases the awareness of the value that an MBA can potentially bring to an organisation. As a result, many jobs will specifically ask for an MBA.

    Australia will probably follow suit within the next decade, as the percentage of people within the population holding MBAs or similar qualifications gradually increases.

    In the meantime, MBAs in Australia will need to be extremely adept at marketing and selling their unique skills sets.

    Best regards,

    John

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