The MBA, the chief executive, and the long-term value

There’s a heartwarming story for MBAs and MBAs-to-be in yesterday’s Financial Times by Herminia Ibarra, Urs Peyer and Morten T. Hansen, professors at INSEAD. (I must say, surely only among academics does it take three (3) people to write one short Op-Ed piece in the FT, but I digress.)

They say: “The global recession may be almost over but the debate rumbles on. How much were MBA-trained executives really to blame? As MBA professors, we heard arguments that we had been teaching the wrong models, neglecting ethics, forgetting common sense, sitting in ivory towers made of spreadsheets and generally nurturing greed. We listened to the charge that business schools were guilty of short-term thinking, especially when evaluating leadership. MBA graduates, so the argument went, were looking for quick riches.

“So, when we came up with the idea of a ranking of chief executives based on performance over an entire career, we also decided to check the myth of the value -destroying MBA against a large and meticulously compiled data set.

“When you rank the top chief executives in the world, based on return on shareholder investment and change in market capitalisation over their entire time in the job… four of our top 10 have the letters M, B and A after their names. Could it be possible that this much-criticised degree helps a business leader to add long-term value after all?

“Our analysis of 1,109 chief executives from 1995 to 2009 found that those with MBAs performed, on average, better than those without. The difference was not large but it was statistically significant. When we drilled down one more level, we discovered that those who had reached the position of chief executive before the age of 50 benefited particularly from a business school education. In fact, on average, having an MBA sends such individuals a full 100 places higher on our list.

“Of course, the term average is important. There are many high-performing chief executives without an MBA. But the overall tendency among the business leaders we analysed is for an MBA to correlate with a higher position in the ranking, especially for those who get the top job at a comparatively young age.

“Our data set does not explain why this should be the case but there are some obvious benefits to going to business school: an MBA gives you better all-round skills; it buys you credibility and it allows you to build a personal power alumni network.”

Full text here.