Ravi Mohan's Blog

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The 'Cult Of the MBA'

In Joel Spolsky's article, there is one sentence that wish I had written

The cult of the MBA likes to believe that you can run organizations that do things that you don't understand.

On second thought though, the ideas behind that sentence look a little bit more complex than they appear. I have seen managers (used interchangeably with "folks who have mbas" for the rest of this post) have made a (positive) difference. Maybe it is just that competent people, with or without an MBA, do make a difference in situations including them. So the question becomes "Is there a significant differential advantage conferred by an MBA?" Somehow I doubt it.(I am talking of differntials of capability, not differntials of social standing or ability to climb organizational ladders) I have seen too many clueless morons with MBAs screw up situations behind repair.

Taking another vantage point, for a company that is essentially about doing cutting edge, innovative things (with or without software) and redefining the way the world works, it would be insane to hand the driving wheel over to a (non engineer) MBA. Which is probably why Larry and Sergei agonized over selecting their CEO for so long, and why Jobs is btter for Apple than Sculley. OTOH if company is involved in "software services" or "offshoring" or whatever, maybe its makes sense to hand over the reins to an MBA who can then 'manage "resources" ',"scale up operations" etc.

And anyway "cults" are not confined to MBAs. On the geek side of the fence we have the Cult of Apple, The Cult of Agile etc. Nothing new here folks, move right along.

2 comments:

Georgi Mammen Mullassery said...

Like a kata in Karate, so is learning of MBA theories. As you say in the real fight, no one really cares if you an MBA. What boils down is whether you can make a difference.

I do not agree to your saying that only Engineer+MBA can only make a difference. I have seen so many dumbo Engineer MBA's.

Like in all learning, the degree to which you will be filled, is the extend you are thirsty. And yearning to be better is no one's monopoly.

It is like Hitler's belief about Aryan supremacy. An engineer always feels elevated to say all engineers are great.

I would also like you to visit my blog at : http://mullassery.blogsource.com/ and leave some comments.

Ravi said...

Georgi,
You removed half my sentence and are reacting to the brooken half ! :-)


I said for a company that is essentially about doing cutting edge, innovative things (with or without software) and redefining the way the world works, it would be insane to hand the driving wheel over to a (non engineer) MBA.

(assumption: - the "change" talked about is an engineering change. If you are talking about say massively innovative bilology based change the chap at the top should have a bilogy/medicine etc degree (or a solid understanding of teh topic equalling a qualified engineer's/bilogists"). The point being you need to understand the underlying technology before you can lead a disruptive firm (vs running on an existing track in "maintenance" mode, perhaps using ahistorical monopoly).

In software, NO company that has dominance of any kind is run by a "pure" MBA and to the degree it has been attempted has led to the company being crushed by rivals.

So yes I do state that in innovative technically based companies(vs those selling, say coca cola) you do need an engineer / bilogist/whatever + MBA (mab being optional).

Do point out any counter examples rather than argue philosophically.