Do you really need an MBA?

Is
an MBA the passport to a seat on the board? Not necessarily, but a 140 per cent
salary increase isn’t unrealistic. Stephanie Sparrow reports.

The
MBA view

Rapid
career progression and a massive salary increase were the result of MBA success
for Kim Parish.

Parish,
who is  now HR director of Scottish and
Newcastle Retail, took a year out for a general MBA in the autumn of 1989.

At
that time she was group training executive for Sutcliffe Catering Group.

“My
reasons were very individual,” she says. “I was looking for a broader HR
position and perhaps even business consultancy roles at that stage. I thought
that the MBA would be a means of facilitating that change.”

Another
benefit was the chance to study again. “I was looking for the intellectual challenge
and personal development,” she says.

Completing
the course led to rapid success: “I got a job as a management development
director and a significant salary increase of 140 per cent,” she says.

Holding
an MBA is a definite career advantage says HR manager at Denso
Manufacturing UK David Lee.

Lee
took his MBA at Cranfield University School of Management in 1996 in a move
designed to facilitate a new career after serving 19 years in the Royal Navy.  

The
year, which he financed himself, was a happy one. “It was very busy, very full,
very stimulating,” he says .

And
the course fulfilled his hopes of giving him an insight into corporate life
outside the services.

“It
gave me a good overview of every function in the business,” he says, “ and –
combined with some training experience in the Royal Navy – allowed me to join
the CIPD straight away as a graduate member. I am now a full member.”

Of
course it also helped him get a job in the private sector at automotive parts
manufacturer Denso. The MBA was advantageous because it meant that he had more
pure business knowledge than other long-serving HR professionals.

So,
what is Lee’s advice to anyone else thinking of taking an MBA?

“It
means a lot more than letters after your name,” he says.  “The real benefit is in exchanging experiences
with fellow cohorts in addition to acquiring a valuable set of management
tools.”

The
recruiter’s view

Bill
Green is a director of  TMP Worldwide
and is responsible for executive selection with HR. He is not
totally convinced that MBAs make a difference to career prospects.

“In
all honesty HR people don’t need an MBA,” he says, "the first reason being
that HR already has a system of qualifications in the CIPD and people don’t
even have to have those.

“The
second reason is that HR is a line of work based on knowledge, skills and
influence, but an MBA is a benchmark of academic ability.”

He
says that it is crucial for career–minded HR professionals to demonstrate
evidence of acquiring skills and experience and dealing with complexities such
as dotcoms and cross-border business.  

However,
Green concedes that studying for an MBA demonstrates ambition, particularly for
those who want to work in the US. “It is essentially an American
qualification”, he says.

He
cautions that academic venues and MBA courses must be chosen with care.

“Read
the quality dailies and HR press," he says, "and pay attention to
word of mouth.

“Look
out for offerings at the well-known universities and business schools – at the
end of the day MBAs are prone to discrimination and some are seen as more
prestigious than others.”

The
official’s view

Would–be
MBA students need to be aware that there are variances and potential
specialisms within the qualification, says Craig Oldacre, information officer
at the Association of MBAs, an accreditation body and advisory service.

“Most
people do a general MBA,” he says, “but there are some MBAs with specialist
strands.”

These
strands or modules are known as “pathways” but the HR version is only currently
offered by a handful of UK business schools. In turn only a few of these are
accredited by Amba and the picture is always changing – check the AMBA website
at  www.mba.org.uk
for the latest curriculum news.

So
what’s the difference between the specialist strands and generalist courses?

“A
general MBA offers the full scope of management issues,” says Oldacre.

These
include management, economics, financial and management accounting, business
strategy and HR management.

He
says that potential students have to decide if there is enough time to cover
those in depth if they are specialising in a subject area as opposed to a
general MBA programme.

People
are now accustomed to the idea of flexible learning and there are accredited
MBAs which can be studied part-time or though distance learning. But the
association has so far not accredited any online courses.

"It
is too soon to see their track record” says Oldacre, “but we have accredited 11
distance learning courses because we can see the quality and what they do for graduates.”

Oldacre’s
final advice is to match up the course with employers’ preferences.

“Contact
any employers that you would like to work for and ask which business schools
and courses play a part in their recruitment decisions,” he says. “Some employers
are only impressed by certain ones.”

The
academic’s view

Charles
Moss is programme director of the full-time MBA course at Sunderland University
Business School and has revised it to drop the HRM stream.

“Some
students are coming onto the course to change careers and a lot of people in
HRM need to appreciate wider management perspectives,” he says. This means that
a generic MBA is often more useful.

“HR
people have got to demonstrate a broad understanding of business, and the more
conventional MBA route is often the best way to do this,” he says.

The
potential student’s view

Finding
a course which will give her career a new perspective is the challenge facing
Sarah Churchman. Churchman is PricewaterhouseCoopers senior HR manager with
responsibility for diversity.

Impetus
has come from her interest in business issues and was brought into focus by her
annual review.

“The
work I am doing is about linking diversity to the business strategy ,” she says
. “All of that got me thinking about where I may want to go in the future and
this made me want to broaden my horizons.”

“People
issues are integral to business issues and I want to understand  the latter better. At the moment I feel
lopsided,” she says.  

Like
many at her career stage and life stage, an MBA feels very much like the next
thing she should do: “ I have the CIPD qualifications and I’ve had my children
in the interim, a masters degree could be next.”

Churchman
doesn’t know which course she will choose but knows her ultimate objectives:

“I
want to go broader but I don’t want to drop my HR roots,” she says.

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