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 / First Quarter 2002 / Issue 26(originally published by Booz & Company)


Reality Programming for MBAs

Practically speaking, it’s time to rethink core concepts of management education.

The MBA, which was introduced almost a century ago, has become more B than A. Contemporary business education focuses on the functions of business more than the practice of managing. Although claiming to develop general managers, in reality, business schools train staff specialists.

This is not surprising. Education, from grade school on up, carves the world neatly into disciplines — mathematics, literature, history, physics, economics, etc. Each discipline has its own perspective — its own way of seeing the world, its own approach to defining and solving problems. Even in graduate school, education tends to focus on either a discipline (e.g., an MA in economics) or a collection of fields (e.g., an MBA based in finance, marketing, and operations). Curricula for so-called executive MBA programs, or educational programs for working managers, are organized in much the same fashion. Even many intensive advanced-management programs for midcareer executives, which last several weeks, replicate the structure of full-time MBA programs.

Yet managing is not mastering a collection of discrete disciplines. It concerns leadership and integrating skills. In a very real sense, management is about life itself. When managers face problems, they face life in all its complexity. Above all else, management is a practice, where art, science, and craft meet. To be sure, managers need specialized knowledge. But more important, they need wisdom — the ability to weave together and make use of different kinds of knowledge.

Many large corporations have created their own corporate “universities,” which may bring management development closer to practice. But they do so at a price — the loss of deep insight that comes from management education in the academic setting, and the breadth that comes from comparing your experiences with those of participants from other companies.

Integrating Two Worlds
It is time to rethink core concepts of management education, including the creation of degree programs designed for practicing managers. In essence, we believe we should seek the benefits of marrying management development with management education. With this in mind, we created a most unusual partnership of business schools and business organizations from around the world. Now in its sixth year, the International Masters Program in Practicing Management (IMPM) admits only practicing managers sponsored by their companies.

The assumptions behind the IMPM include:

  • Managers cannot be created in a classroom, but practicing managers can be further developed through classroom education.
  • Managers should be sponsored by their organizations, and they should stay in their jobs while they do the program so that classroom activity can be linked to their experience on the job.
  • Team experiences are a critical part of the process; managers should come to the program prepared to work in groups.
  • Development of a well-rounded manager means moving beyond the analytical to emphasize both the reflective and the active aspects of managing.

Participating business schools include: the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, in India; INSEAD, in Fontainebleau, France; the Lancaster University Management School, in Northern England; and the McGill University Faculty of Management, in Montréal, Canada. In Japan, collaborating faculty come from Hitotsubashi University, Kobe University, and the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

Companies involved since the IMPM’s beginning six years ago, as well as those that joined later, also span North America, Europe, and Asia. Matsushita and Fujitsu represent Japan; LG is from Korea. In India, the Bangalore program has attracted senior managers from a variety of small companies. The European companies (from the U.K., France, Switzerland, and Germany) include Lufthansa, Electricité de France/Gaz de France, BT Group, AstraZeneca, and Marconi, as well as the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Alcan, the Royal Bank of Canada Financial Group, and Motorola have represented North America.

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