I was reading through BusinessWeek the other day, and in one of the new issues they are going on about the new crop of MBA students. As I happen to be pursuing the Masters of Business Administration degree myself, I took note and paid close attention. I was a bit dismayed to note how much of the magazine that week was little better than an advertising platform for the high-priced schools, the ones just below that elite status that attracts the best students by reputation. Don’t get me wrong, these are fine schools but I can spot a market ploy quickly enough, and it made me wonder how much I could trust in the stories surrounding the advertisements from the schools.
One thing which struck me in the stories presented, was the focus on two sorts of MBA students; the commuter student who treks thousands of miles in order to go to the “right” school, sometimes leaving family and common sense behind in pursuit of the degree with that certain cachet, and the students who indulge in high-style living in hopes of creating a network which will, they say, be repaid for by bonuses and perks from their future employers. Maybe it’s my Scottish blood speaking, but if I owned a major company and I heard about these wane-be jetsetters, I would be careful to make a list of their names, and instruct my recruiters to under no circumstance hire any of them, as the people who are so quick to spend company money even years before they expect to get it, cannot in my mind be trusted with the responsibility for the company’s success and growth. It may sound harsh, but anyone who figures they deserve the highest pay grades before they have done a single thing to earn them, is a dishonest con artist in my book.
I understand that companies consider the schools which prospective executives attend. And as much as I like the University of Houston at Victoria, I am not confusing it with the Wharton School or Harvard. Even so, when I have my MBA, I shall be qualified for all the nominal duties and responsibilities which that degree portends, and combined with my experience I consider myself a formidable force if my talents are properly utilized. OK, so a lot of business people feel that way, but my point is that a lot of the people who get paid the big bucks do not seem, speaking bluntly, to earn their base salaries, let alone the perks and bonuses. I don’t blame them for having those things – I respect anyone for the ability to succeed in their personal wealth, and would like to be wealthy myself some day. But any competent businessman can tell you that you need to watch your costs, and to make sure you are not wasting money. And boy howdy, there sure seems to be a lot of waste in the executive suites of many companies. How hard is it, for example, to understand that it makes no sense to buy a company like Tribune for around eight billion dollars, when it’s thirteen billion in debt and it’s revenues are in free-fall? How stupid does someone have to be to propose buying TXU with private equity money, and not consider that the Public Utility Commission might have doubts and questions about a gas and electric company hiding information from the public? Some things are counter-intuitive, I know, but a lot of the major action these days smells a lot like gambling. And the guys gambling are doing it with stocks and bonds owned by regular folks, so the average fella is getting all the risk dumped on him. I mean, shouldn’t a decent business school be focusing less on tricks of manipulation, and more on core principles? Shouldn’t a company looking for a top executive consider a track record that has at least as much practical experience as theory? Why is this even a question?
Maybe I am too blue-collar for the haute cuisine set, unable to understand why an expensive golf club membership should be necessary for a business plan to be considered, or why someone who wants his mind to be taken seriously, should have to plan on “being seen” at the “right” parties. But I know what makes businesses fail or fly, and this idea that snob appeal should be a critical component in nabbing the attention of a top company, strikes me as a critical flaw.