Washington: In the past 20 years, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) factories created the conditions that helped land the global economy in the current mess, writes Bloomberg columnist Matthew Lynn. He also suggests that the business schools should be shut down.
Business schools legitimized a pseudo-scientific approach, promoted a mechanistic management style and formed a managerial elite more interested in rewards than producing lasting wealth for the economies they operate in.
Richard Fuld, who was CEO of Lehman Brothers Holdings at the time of its collapse, has an MBA from New York University. John Thain, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch, is a graduate of Harvard Business School. Christopher Cox, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has an MBA from Harvard University.
In Europe, Andy Hornby, CEO of British bank HBOS, is another Harvard Business School product. HBOS had to be bailed out in a merger with Lloyds Banking Group and then both had to be rescued by the U.K. government. Peter Wuffli, who as CEO, presided over the huge losses that took Zurich-based UBS AG to the brink of disaster, studied management at Switzerland’s University of St Gallen.
If these business leaders were not able to spot the flaws in the businesses they were running, one has to look into the matter of what business and management schools had been teaching them.
The schools promoted a quasi-scientific approach to business, sermonizing that everything could be nailed down in a textbook, and encouraged students to believe that running a company could be mastered by anyone. The entire private-equity industry is founded on that principle. And also, all the intellectual tools that led us into the financial meltdown were largely invented within academia. Complex models for pricing risk created the market for the options and derivatives contracts that have caused so much trouble in the past year.
But, management in reality is a skill that is acquired through experience, judgment and flair. Billions are about to be wasted relearning a simple fact that should never have been forgotten.
The business schools took some mysterious risk and tried to make it as easy to count as peas in a pod. By doing so, they encouraged a whole generation of young men and women to go into investment banking armed with the belief that they had mastered risk. But the truth turned out to be different.
The author pins the growth of business schools to the situation where the economy contracts and jobless bankers seek to boost their qualifications. The people who steered the global economy onto the rocks in the past year all benefited from the finest management education that money can buy.
However, Lynn admits that it is unfair to assign all blame to business schools. Over the last three decades, taking an MBA has become just another qualification, a hoop to be jumped through on your way to getting a good job on Wall Street, or in London or Zurich’s financial centers.
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