MBA impacts: myth and reality
By Kwon Eun-young
Choi In-hyuk, a 41-year-old partner at Boston Consulting Group, saw his annual payment triple after he graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
He decided to pursue further education in business at the world’s top business school in order to, as a consultant, build in-depth knowledge and practice various skills for his future career. And luckily the company sponsored the two-year program, relieving Choi from concerns over any opportunity costs.
Hearing the perfect case of Choi, many MBA candidates may assume his MBA degree helped him get the job at a global consulting firm, the position as an executive and the handsome salary. What they are likely to pay little attention to is the fact that Choi was already a highly motivated person who wanted to make the most out of the program.
A survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the non-profit institution which administers the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), found in September 2011 that 94 percent of 4,315 surveyed business school graduates were employed.
The median salary reported by the alumni from all participating graduation years was $95,000, with additional compensation averaging $18,123. On average, alumni across all participating graduation years recouped one-third of their financial investment in their graduate degree immediately after graduation, and saw a one hundred percent return on investment after four years, the GMAC says on the website.
While the GMAC needs to promote students to apply for MBA programs and take the GMAT, the result of the survey shouldn’t be accepted at its face value.
Industry experts and MBA graduates say that the average is just an average and cannot represent all the cases of those with MBA degrees. Furthermore, people who have had a successful career path after graduation from business schools could have already got those x-factors before starting the course. Lastly, personal goals for taking MBAs might vary, so graduates’ achievements cannot be simplified to how much they earn.
“The number of MBA graduates is much larger than the number of available jobs that pay a lot of money. If someone wants return on investment into the degree, his or her annual salary should be increased by about 50 to 60 million won after graduation, but that rarely happens,” Choi said.
Hwang Jong-duck, another successful MBA graduate who is now a director of marketing research firm Neilsen Korea, shares the similar view as Choi’s. “We call that herd mentality, blindly following what others do. People study MBA with a vague understanding of others making a good return on investment after graduation. They think that an MBA degree is a fancy shortcut to a professional job,” Hwang said.
“Who knows how long those high salary jobs would last? I have many fellow students, who graduated from different schools in 2007 and got high-paying professional jobs. But when the economic crisis hit in 2008, they all lost their jobs.”
Hwang was formerly a business reporter, and got into the Columbia Business School of Columbia University to specialize further as an industry reporter.
His undergraduate majors were Russian and economics, so Hwang wanted to learn management systemically. He also hoped to build a wide network of acquaintances there who may become global business leaders. That would be an important asset for his career in journalism in the future.
Hwang, however, changed his mind during the course — he wanted to help businesses to innovate — and he switched to a different career successfully.
“My annual salary did triple after I graduated from a business school, but what I have earned from the course isn’t just that money. The program helped me cultivate leadership skills and draw a big picture on sustainable growth,” Hwang said.
“You should define what success truly means. In this capitalistic society where making a lot of money is the greatest virtue, you should run your own business, which doesn’t necessarily require an MBA degree. But if you want more than that, I recommend taking the course.”
Another graduate, Choi, who wished to be identified only by his last name, also advises that MBA candidates should look beyond better compensation or career change.
Before studying at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Choi was a consultant. He now screens investments in a venture capital firm. As he carried out various consulting projects in China, he wanted to tap into the Chinese market with its economy continuing to grow. By doing an MBA in China, he wanted to build up business networks there to develop his own career in the world’s second largest economy.
“Focusing on upgrading their qualification for better remuneration could hinder the candidates from having a broader outlook. They should rather concentrate on learning because the course is where they build working knowledge through the study of business cases.” Choi said.
“What I learned from the program is to accept differences as I studied with students of different backgrounds. After finishing the course, I try to communicate with others by understanding our differences.”
According to Choi Ho-sik, the CEO of human resource consulting firm Bestnetwork Inc., employers are often impressed by MBA graduates who are highly motivated and have a deep understanding of business. They wouldn’t be necessarily impressed by MBA degrees.
“People who study more about their field are usually highly motivated, so an MBA degree can be a bonus when an employer is already impressed by the enthusiasm shown by the job candidate. But this does not happen the other way around. They do not believe that a degree alone is a guarantee of the candidate’s ability,” the HR consultant said.
Choi In-hyuk of BCG is a typical example of how one’s passion helps develop core skills through MBA programs. He enjoyed the program to the extent that he felt two years were too short.
“I was particularly interested in macroeconomics so my favorite class was one that analyzed the latest economic news. It was amazing that such difficult topics could be explained by business theories,” Choi said.
“Time flew as I concentrated on studying and spent time with my family.”
Choi said that that learning process was the biggest gain from his studying at Wharton, not neccessarily better remuneration he was offered after graduation.
“There are different ways to rise to a partner position. Some continue to work as a consultant with a bachelor’s degree and get promoted, while some pursue further education including doctoral degrees,” the partner said.
“The most important gain from the MBA program for me was to secure in a short period of time a good grasp of how the economy works on a global scale.”