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Future Leaders: Is a General MBA enough?

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Globally, job markets are evolving. Studies foresee jobs being replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated algorithms. We read about cryptocurrencies, and how financial services are adopting technology in business structures in an attempt to keep up with the ever-evolving markets and consumer demands.

These evolutions and technological integrations, no doubt, will lead to a change in the workforce. Employee skills need to evolve along with these innovations to remain relevant.  A leadership position in a financial institution, for example, requires not only communication and interpersonal skills, a prerequisite for affecting change, but also the ability to understand and work with AI to keep up with and implement company-wide strategic change.

The challenge in dealing with technological innovation and integration are their constant evolution. Consider the opinion of Eric Brynjolffson, professor at MIT Sloan and Director of the MIT Initiative for Digital Economy. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, he shares insights about businesses being presented with new opportunities in “machine learning.”  He explains that, “When you put these three things together, computer power, more data, and better algorithms you get sometimes as much as a millionfold improvement on some applications.” Thirty years ago, improvements to computation moved infinitesimally slower; this change presents businesses with new challenges. They now have an opportunity to integrate “machine learning” into their corporate structure, enabling higher efficiencies on all fronts. The topic is often a source of heated debate. Regardless of people’s views, the fusion of human and technological efforts in business is inevitable. The questions that remain: Are business leaders adequately prepared to take on these new challenges? What skillsets do industry leaders look for in candidates when addressing these challenges?

If business trails technology, what of education?

While the education system generally trails the job market, the acceleration of technological innovation leaves many MBA programs having an even more severe case of catch-up.  For that reason, some will devalue the relevance of an MBA, claiming it does not adequately train future leaders. Disputes of the MBA’s validity are plentiful. Titles like the one in The Economist, “Nothing Special: MBAs are no longer prized by employers,” flood the internet. Ross Campbell, Partner at IQ PARTNERS and Founder of Leadervest, shared some of his insights and observations about the current state of the job market. “A general MBA program does not have a curriculum that trains students adequately for strategic roles,” he said. Mr. Campbell should know, having helped FinTech and financial companies find executives in Canada and the U.S. for over 10 years, witnessing time and again how a general MBA failed to add value to a candidate’s profile. It is no surprise to find employers unimpressed with candidates holding a general MBA, especially since about 200,000 MBA degrees are awarded annually. The challenges companies are facing require creativity. As Brynjolffson puts it, companies need “the imagination of business executives” to overcome today’s challenges. In an age where an MBA has become standard, the degree alone will not guarantee career success. So what can make the MBA grad stand out in a pool of candidates with similar skills?

gaining a competitive edge

What can add distinction to an MBA are the courses and the internship opportunities that will add uniqueness to a candidate’s profile. Mr. Campbell’s advice for those seeking to maximize their MBA’s impact is to be mindful of both school and course selection. “If a candidate seeks a career in strategy, for example, a planned curriculum at the appropriate school will have a great impact [on their career outcome],” advised Campbell.  In fact, some of the top-tier business schools are now offering coursework in AI. Complicating matters, top schools like Harvard, MIT, and INSEAD have a history of low acceptance rates. While candidates should always aim for admission to the highest caliber school within their reach, attention should be paid to course selection and their path, regardless of the university.  Tactically approaching the application process, identifying multiple schools and varied curricula that may lead to their ultimate career goal can prove beneficial. A specialized track at a school that is the best fit for the candidate is likely to prove most valuable.