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What price education?

first_imgGaining an MBA can be a real career accelerator and gain you a place on theboard but as Nic Paton discovered, it is also essential to ensure you graspfundamental strategic and business objectivesHeather Salter, HR director at entertainment company Clear ChannelEntertainment, graduated in September as an MBA from the Open UniversityBusiness School. A former secretary, she has worked her way up through GrandMetropolitan (as was), Scottish & Newcastle and Apollo Leisure to a pointwhere, if it wasn’t for the fact Clear Channel is owned by a US parent, shewould now be on the board. For her, securing an MBA on top of her OU degree and IPD qualification wasnot simply an option, it was a necessity. The course, three years of distance learningmodules, tutorials once a month and a residential element, was a tough jugglingact. But if she wanted to have credibility with the people who mattered – theboard – to go onwards and upwards, she felt she needed the qualification. “I now have a language that lets me communicate with them. The MBA hasalso changed my whole way of thinking. I am much more likely to look at whatthe business needs are and tailor the solution to them rather than thinkingsomething is just good to do,” she says. Yet, in the three years of studying, she did not meet a single other HRprofessional. While it is impossible to know with any certainty what percentageof high-level HR professionals hold MBAs, Salter’s experience does not seemunusual. Fewer than 2 per cent of those who studied at Henley ManagementCollege in recent years have HR or personnel backgrounds and just three of the300 people who graduated through the latest London Business School MBAprogramme came from an HR background. The Association of MBAs (AMBA) estimatesthat, out of a total membership of around 11,000 people, fewer than 40 of itsmembers work in HR. “It is true, very few people in HR either have an MBA or intend to doone,” agrees Linda Holbeche, director of research at the Roffey Park Institute.”They tend to get their qualification through the CIPD or an MSc inorganisational development or whatever. But they are reinforcing the usualproblem of HR being apparently disconnected from the business.” The HR profession is increasingly being urged to talk the language ofbusiness. HR professionals in turn often bemoan the fact they are perceived bychief executives, financial directors and chief operating offices as non-core –a useful, if slightly, well, woolly adjunct to the real business of makingmoney. Management often sees HR in much the same way it views public relations– glad it’s there, particularly in a crisis, but for God’s sake don’t let themget too close to the big stuff. For Mike Jones, director general of AMBA, the fact this view still prevailsin many boardrooms around the country, is “a real shame”. But HR canbe its own worst enemy, preferring to focus on “technical”qualifications such as the CIPD and ignoring the need for general businessskills, he argues. “It is essential that the HR director or manager has a very strongunderstanding of the constituent parts of the organisation. In many largecompanies, having an MBA is a prerequisite for getting on the board. It is theonly management qualification that gives a broad perspective on the variousfunctions and functionalities of the business,” he says. Julia Tyler, director of the MBA programme at London Business School,agrees. “What the MBA will do is move you out of the HR ghetto and giveyou knowledge of the general business functions,” she says. Yet in one sense the MBA has become a victim of its own success. The rangeand breadth of courses now offered by a plethora of organisations andinstitutions, some good and others distinctly less so, has devalued thequalification’s currency. It is important, therefore, to pick a well-respectedcourse. Out of 124 schools in the UK offering MBAs, AMBA only accredits 34. Andthese 34 account for two-thirds of all MBA students. “The MBA has lost its exclusivity, but against that it has become themainstream management qualification,” admits Jones. The qualification is increasingly becoming a must-have for the younger,up-and-coming executive, adds Professor Leo Murray, director of the CranfieldSchool of Management. To become a board-level director without an MBA or otherhigh-level business qualification is the exception rather than the norm. HRprofessionals who want to get on should consider studying for an MBA earlierrather than later – perhaps even at HRM level. “If you are about to get on the board of a FTSE company the probabilityis that you are 35 to 40 years of age and are pretty high up your chosenladder. You will probably already have done a general management programme oran MBA. Typically, people who do an MBA are the high-fliers in the 25-to-35 agebracket,” says Murray. An alternative option is the executive MBA, or eMBA. This is the samequalification studied part-time on a modular basis and often throughe-learning. Many colleges have linked up with other institutions around theworld to offer eMBAs that are truly global, designed to attract high-fliersworking for multinationals. Ultimately, though, it is the qualification and theschool it is from, not how you got it, that matters, argues AMBA’s Jones. “AnMBA is an MBA is an MBA.” So, it’s easy, then; an MBA is a passport to the board. Not necessarily.Cranfield’s Murray and LBS’ Tyler agree an MBA can be an enormous careeraccelerator, but getting to the board is a different matter altogether. “You cannot just say that HR directors are not on the board becausethey do not have MBAs – that is deeply far fetched. It is about knowledge,skills and persuasiveness,” says Murray. “An MBA is extremely useful.It gives you a vocabulary, an agenda that lets you relate to the business. Butthe further up you go the less it is about qualifications and the more it isabout your experience, determination and drive.” Neither can the qualification teach an executive what life is really like onthe board, whether from an HR background or not, argues John Weston, head ofthe centre for director development at the Institute of Directors. An MBA willgive you a sound under-pinning of effective management, but the IoD also runs adiploma in company direction that aims to offer clear, distinct guidance on howto lead and be a director. About 300 people a year go through the course. “Most MBAs miss the unique difference of being on the board. Managingand directing are not the same thing. There is the collective responsibility, differentlegal duties and responsibilities. It is about operating beyond your functionand specialism,” says Weston. HR people need to start to emphasise HR’s strategic nature, he adds.”Managing directors and financial directors tend not to understand thatconcept very well. HR professionals really have to blow their own trumpet more.They have to say, ‘This company will not work unless you have an effective HRstrategy in place’. They could be leaking their best people like a sieve andnot know it.” For the HR professional looking to progress up the greasy pole, it appearsthe question of acquiring an MBA is increasingly becoming one of when ratherthan if. Of course, some HR high-fliers will continue to make it to the boardwithout MBAs. But, if HR professionals want to win the battle to become anintegral part of their organisation’s strategic and business objectives, thenthe MBA must become a key weapon in their arsenal. Where MBAs come in THE pecking orderMBA: Gives a credible grounding in general management and administration skills.Graduates will be expected to be able to “think outside the box” whenit comes to their function, be real business players and, probably, on afast-track to the board* * * * *Doctorates: PhDs can be a useful tool for focusing on business issues or problems, butthey are more usually for the serious academic. Nevertheless, they can addgravitas to an already solid CV*Specialised Masters Degree: Graduates should be able to show an advanced  level of academic and conceptual thinking and understand theirfunction inside out. But while they should give a sense of the broader businesspicture, they may also be tightly focused on a specific function or discipline* * * *CIPD: A vital qualification for any self-respecting HR professional, but worthgetting behind you as fast as possible and then moving on * * Management Diploma: Shows you’re thinking widely about your field and how best to work withinyour organisation * * *Key:* * * * * stand for excellent, through to* which has less relevanceMBA skills need continuousupdatingOnce achieved, an MBA will needupdating. Indeed, a central tenet of any good MBA programme is an expectationfor life-long and continuous professional development. Former MBA students are generally encouraged to remain in touchwith their colleges throughout the rest of their professional working life.Four months ago, AMBA launched MBAcademy as a specificinitiative to tap into this need for life-long learning among MBA graduates.The academy offers members a series of five-day refresher courses designed toupdate their management skills with the latest thinking, open them up to newideas and simply allow them time to rethink some of their management beliefs.Among other initiatives, Roffey Park launched its Strategic HRNetwork in September. This forum comprises some 30 HR professionals who can shareviews, contacts, best practice and hold discussions at least twice a year. Themembers will also be given software to allow them to keep in touch throughtheir computers outside the meetings. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed. What price education?On 1 Feb 2002 in Personnel Todaylast_img

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