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 / Summer 2008 / Issue 51(originally published by Booz & Company)


The 21st-Century MBA

What You Should Know about Your New Hire
by Steffen M. Lauster and Gustavo Alba

The world is asking something new from masters of business administration, and MBA students are responding by demanding something new from their schools and future employers. Given that the MBA talent pool is a key component of the talent acquisition strategy at our own firm, we’re experiencing this phenomenon firsthand. It is evident in surveys of MBA students as well.

In recent years, an MBA degree from a top-tier school has often been seen as a ticket to an elite career: a way to join a global professional firm or to escalate progress up the corporate ladder of a Fortune 500 organization, while expanding one’s business network. Harvard Business School Professor Rakesh Khurana writes in his book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton University Press, 2007) that business schools attract students by demonstrating first and foremost that they “provide ac­cess to high-paying jobs, [placing] students in fields such as investment banking, hedge funds, and private eq­uity, where the economic rewards available to new MBAs dwarf those offered by traditional management positions.” But that view may be incomplete. To be sure, the best MBA students expect to be well rewarded financially. But they also insist on looking for challenging, interesting work from Day One; they aspire to be involved in projects that will de­velop them intellectually, with mentors who are team oriented and encourage creativity. “I want to be stretched,” they say. “I invested two years in an MBA, and I don’t want to return to the same kind of job I had before.” Many students include a stint at a not-for-profit organization in their career plans. 

Above all, business school students want to make an impact early on. This is not necessarily altruism. As the supply of MBAs around the world continues to grow (with dozens of management schools opening in Asia and a growing number of executive and virtual MBAs available), new graduates are looking for an edge. Today’s MBAs need to distinguish themselves, and they know that quantitative skills alone are no longer enough. To lead in the complex world of global management, they will be expected to oversee change, synthesize disparate information, come up with solutions to complex problems, and demonstrate not just intellectual sagacity but emotional intelligence. 

Members of the generation currently in business school have some natural advantages over their predecessors: Having grown up with collaborative technologies such as instant messaging, social networking, and text messaging, they gravitate toward team-based cultures. But they may need to develop other attributes more deliberately. Can they empathize with colleagues and direct reports? Can they work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds? Can they communicate in multiple languages and remain unfazed in unfamiliar situations? Can they give constructive feedback? Can they handle instant feedback from others?

If the answer to these questions is no, MBAs know they won’t get help in many organizations — because the senior executives they work for may not have these qualities either, or because the organizational model may not allow entry-level associates to develop these broader skills. Nor is it clear that they can find this sort of training in a classroom of the typical business school. Thus, the top students seek out schools and com­panies that serve as apprenticeships in management practice, places that allow them to train in several lines of business, develop leadership skills, work around the world, and build relationships that last a lifetime. Companies that take this imperative seriously — stretching and nurturing their incoming employees — will gain disproportionate access to the best and brightest business school graduates, and especially to those with the most leadership potential.

Steffen M. Lauster is a vice president with Booz & Company based in Cleveland. He concentrates on strategy development and revenue management for manufacturers of consumer products.

Gustavo Alba is a principal with Booz & Company in New York. He is re­sponsible for the firm’s North Am­erican commercial recruiting activities.
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  1. Andrea Gabor, “Lessons for Business Schools,” s+b, Spring 2008: Resources on the history of management education and its relevance to the needs of today’s business environment.
  2. Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly, Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): Illuminates how groups from different sectors working in concert can address problems none of them can solve alone.
  3. Rakesh Khurana, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton University Press, 2007): A Harvard Business School professor’s review of the history and purpose of management education and an outline for reform.
  4. Art Kleiner, “The Thought Leader Interview: Anne-Marie Slaughter,” s+b, Autumn 2007: The dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School on networks and the multisector career path.
  5. James O’Toole, Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership (Ballantine, 1996): Management theorist looks to art, history, and philosophy to demonstrate that values-based leadership is the best way to coax organizational change.
  6. Reggie Van Lee, Lisa Fabish, and Nancy McGaw, “The Value of Corporate Values,” s+b, Summer 2005: Booz Allen Hamilton/Aspen Institute survey of corporate behavior finds that leading companies are crafting purpose-driven identities.
  7. For more business thought leadership, sign up for s+b’s RSS feeds.
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