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The Relevant MBA

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I believe that the MBA is more relevant today than ever before. But today's MBA, both in product and in person, is not "your father's MBA."

Indeed, business schools and the MBAs they graduate still play a crucial role in creating and disseminating knowledge that can affect corporate policy and practice through robust research programs, and in providing the leadership that is required to move organizations and the world forward in positive ways.

MBA programs have sometimes been derided as "trade school for smart people." Criticisms have ranged from the expense to the relevance of programs. Some people may feel that the time working would help their career more than getting an advanced business degree.

While there are substantial costs associated with having highly educated faculty and desirable facilities, MBA programs have reinvented themselves. From students to alumni, those connected with Johnson and other top MBA programs are well-rounded, global thinkers who feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the systems, goods and services, and wealth they create. They want to know that their products or services are safe and sustainable and enhance consumers' lives, and that their profitable business solutions are leveraged for long-term global benefit.

Young professionals entering an MBA program understand the stakes here -- personally and professionally. Whether an individual is looking to join a large or small organization, the not-for-profit sector, or pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity, the training in analytical skills and discipline demanded by an MBA incomparably prepares someone to make a contribution from the first day. But even more importantly, the MBA is able to adapt to the continual challenges requiring creative and new solutions for the problems and opportunities their organizations and the world encounter. Johnson and many other top schools also have expanded the leadership component of the curricula. It is said that leadership cannot be taught, but it can be learned. We provide the situation in which it can be learned through the application of the fundamentals to real business problems in a learning environment. Some of the recent economic problems were caused by overlooking business-analytic fundamentals and also by a lack of positive, ethical leadership. In both, MBAs can show the way forward.

Programmatically, the MBA is gaining depth, range and popularity as it connects with disciplines like law, engineering or medicine. Within the MBA itself, the array of specialties is growing beyond the standard finance and marketing fields to include sustainable development, emerging markets, technological innovation and others.

We believe capable business leaders must have skills well beyond a functional specialty so we look to provide our MBA students with the depth and breadth needed to build a global perspective and professional flexibility that organizations are demanding today. However, we must also make sure we aren't throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, by innovating programmatically, as the core of what an MBA has historically offered remains vital and highly relevant (hence the consistency among worthwhile MBA programs in providing a foundation in areas such as marketing, accounting, finance, organizational behavior, and international business). The simple fact remains that it is nearly impossible to gain those skills on an advanced level outside an MBA program. The technology industry is heralded for its support of charismatic college dropouts who have successfully created strong enterprises. Upon closer examination of such stories, however, one finds that this is the exception rather than the rule, and even those that have succeeded have often been helped by MBAs who have been able to take an enterprise to the next level to compete nationally and globally.

So today's business curricula have evolved to adapt to globalized business environments while embracing constant technological advances. Courses are aimed toward building an agile, adaptive intellect to solve problems, and top-tier programs will continue to lead the curve in generating research while providing their students the opportunity to integrate theory and practice. But truly competitive business curricula are fiercely loyal to a basic and highly challenging and rigorous core. And it is this commitment that will always distinguish those who have successfully completed a quality MBA program. The modern MBA is indeed a complex combination. But its value will continue to grow because business needs globally minded, ethical leaders that are simply not easily developed elsewhere.