finance

Opinion: Mary Campbell on how MBA courses must change



We have become accustomed to hearing policymakers admitting: “We are taking expert advice – but, frankly, we are having to make it up as we go along.”

This was already a familiar mantra in the most enlightened boardrooms and business schools, although I have yet to read it expressed in such stark terms in annual reports or brochures for a management development programme.

Organisations have nothing to fear in being open about the uncertainties of the fast-changing world we live in. Digital disruption has destroyed the oligarchic business world of “might is right”.

Business is no longer about being incrementally better than your competitors; they might not be getting it right, either. Long-established business models have collapsed and the true business objective now is to be resilient and relentlessly relevant to the consumers’ changing world.

Investors’ sentiment has moved from B2B to B2C business models. Tectonic shifts over the decades have resulted in the world’s largest listed companies changing from being 90% B2B models to now being 90% B2C models; the composition of market value of our largest companies has moved from being 80% underwritten by tangible assets to now being more than 80% intangible assets.

As a corporate financier, I used to spend time with boards looking ahead at corporate strategy and scoping potential partners, acquirers and/or targets. This work has changed dramatically in the past three years because no one can be sure which businesses will be around in the next five years.

We now work with futurists and regularly scope possible scenarios as trends are changing by the day. Effective leaders in corporates are training for the skills needed to thrive in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

Military strategy developed to cope with a post Cold War world is alive in forward-looking board rooms. Agile business schools are updating content on a quarterly basis and the tentacles of behavioural sciences are spreading.

The changing content is to be wholeheartedly encouraged – but the underlying business models have changed little and, clearly, the MBA is struggling to remain relevant.

The FT reports that demand for MBAs at the world-leading business schools has declined for five straight years. In 2019 alone, demand was down 6.9% on the 2018 numbers.

There is consensus that change is needed, but little agreement as to what change is needed and why. Cost/benefit equations dominate the discourse. League tables are still produced providing comparator analysis on the average earnings of the alumni to justify the costs of MBA, often between £50,000 and £100,000.

Providers are moving to fully online delivery, with costs down substantially to sub £30,000 – but why pay all this money? You can absorb the most up-to-date guidance from leading experts in books hot off the press or online lectures or articles.

You have questions for the experts as to how their teaching fits your own assessment of the issues? You may email or tweet the experts and ask them your questions. Today’s experts want to hear from you.

If you are seeing something that they are not factoring into their thinking, they want to know because clear communication of current realities is vital to their own relevance and resilience.

If it’s all about your specific needs for your business, the experts will come to you and run a highly engaging bespoke Advanced Management Programme.

So how do MBA programmes adapt to this changing landscape? How does our whole education system change? Because change we must.

In March, The Goodison Group think tank issued its report Schooling, Education & Learning 2030 and Beyond, articulating the changing expectations of consumers in our schools from three to 18-year-olds.

The messages on change, leadership and action resonate from kindergarten to the board room, to the Cabinet rooms: expert advice on helping build resilience and relevance is needed today more
than ever.

Mary Campbell is managing director of international corporate finance player Blas



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