On the Self-Importance of MBAs

Kelly Fee, a Booth alum, recently posted A Call to Re-brand for MBAs (specifically in tech).  It relates to a lot of conversations that I’ve had about the value of an MBA – I’ve seen many fellow students post that they agree and are happy that someone has expressed what they haven’t been able to say.  I’m all for MBAs representing themselves well out there, but I disagree with the crux of her post.

My reaction to Kelly’s “Three petitions for MBAs in tech”:

Please stop belittling the MBA. You make yourself look bad.

“If you got nothing out of your MBA experience intellectually, it’s your own fault” – I agree with this on the surface.  Business school is an awesome place to explore new interests (academic, experiential, etc.), and I’ve viewed it as a sandbox in which to try new things.  Personally, I de-emphasize class/grades, and I spend a ton of time working for free for super smart people in spaces in which I’m interested – this is one of the biggest benefits of Booth.

You can learn cool shit in business school – no argument there – but that is not where the differentiated value is (remember Matt Damon in that Harvard bar?).  The two main things business school does for people (like it or not) are:

  1. Brand you – It’s hard to get in, and top schools do the hard work of vetting out prospective students.  By getting into school, you place yourself in “elite” company and will reap the benefits of this in the eyes of employers who want to hire smart, driven people.
  2. Give you a network – Call it a “2-year ‘break'” if you want, but that’s what it is, and that is OK.  I’ve met incredibly smart, interesting, genuine people during my time at Booth, and the deepest connections that I’ve made have nothing to do with “school”.  Early morning stumbles down 6th street after Austin City Limits, 3am post-TNDC (Thursday Night Drinking Club) tacos with my buddies, watching I Love You, Man four times since September – those are what make school worth it. Business school is awesome and fun, and that is OK – I don’t feel the need to apologize for it.

This is not to discount the knowledge that you can gain, but I can Google how to unlever beta.  You can learn the nuts and bolts of business anywhere – but branding and networks are more elusive, and those are the real competitive advantages that you enjoy as an MBA.  If you think otherwise, I’d be curious as to why you’re a better candidate for a position at Google than the person who has worked there for six years.

I don’t belittle my MBA, but I do have an opinion on what it is (and what it isn’t).  I love school, and I would do it all over again – but don’t tell me what business schools means to me and how I should represent it.

Please own your secretly intense side

“Please be authentic in speaking about your B school experience and stop being a punk” – what does this even mean?

Some people study a ton for the GMAT and some don’t have to (I did); some people freak out during recruiting and some don’t (I didn’t).  Kelly says that “the journey of personal and professional self-discovery accelerates in business school and the majority of people leave changed” – uhh, I guess?

Getting into school is hard.  Getting a job can, of course, be stressful – but it’s easier to do in business school than it is almost anywhere else.  Successfully graduating from business school is a joke.

I don’t understand the plea, so it’s hard for me to take action.

Be honest. Be humble

100% agree.  Kelly correctly says “they care about your value add, so let’s roll up our sleeves do our core jobs well, eh?”, which doesn’t really jive with her apparent disappointment at being asked about powerpoint presentations.

I actually think this is the single biggest reason employers (or other employees), at times, don’t like MBAs.  The impression is that MBAs think they are better than other people; if you want people to respect you (especially in a results-oriented environment like Silicon Valley), do a good job – it doesn’t matter where you went to school.

I recently worked on a project for a startup with someone who said “I’m an MBA student; I’m not here to do grunt work.”  That is fucking insane.

A big part of the reason MBAs get discounted is that people would rather work with people who are cheaper, more humble, and who have been actually working for the past two years.


If I had a plea to business school students, it would be to remember that you’re not that special, so enjoy what you’ve achieved and been given, and recognize that that degree doesn’t mean shit when it comes to winning a deal or getting that new product to market… though that classmate of yours on the customer’s procurement team may be a good first phone call.

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