Gaining an MBA can be a real career accelerator and gain you a place on the board but as Nic Paton discovered, it is also essential to ensure you grasp fundamental strategic and business objectives
Heather Salter, HR director at entertainment company Clear Channel Entertainment, graduated in September as an MBA from the Open University Business School. A former secretary, she has worked her way up through Grand Metropolitan (as was), Scottish & Newcastle and Apollo Leisure to a point where, if it wasn't for the fact Clear Channel is owned by a US parent, she would now be on the board.
For her, securing an MBA on top of her OU degree and IPD qualification was not simply an option, it was a necessity. The course, three years of distance learning modules, tutorials once a month and a residential element, was a tough juggling act.
But if she wanted to have credibility with the people who mattered - the board - to go onwards and upwards, she felt she needed the qualification.
"I now have a language that lets me communicate with them. The MBA has also changed my whole way of thinking. I am much more likely to look at what the business needs are and tailor the solution to them rather than thinking something is just good to do," she says.
Yet, in the three years of studying, she did not meet a single other HR professional. While it is impossible to know with any certainty what percentage of high-level HR professionals hold MBAs, Salter's experience does not seem unusual. Fewer than 2 per cent of those who studied at Henley Management College in recent years have HR or personnel backgrounds and just three of the 300 people who graduated through the latest London Business School MBA programme came from an HR background. The Association of MBAs (AMBA) estimates that, out of a total membership of around 11,000 people, fewer than 40 of its members work in HR.
"It is true, very few people in HR either have an MBA or intend to do one," agrees Linda Holbeche, director of research at the Roffey Park Institute. "They tend to get their qualification through the CIPD or an MSc in organisational development or whatever. But they are reinforcing the usual problem of HR being apparently disconnected from the business."
The HR profession is increasingly being urged to talk the language of business. HR professionals in turn often bemoan the fact they are perce