Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. What price education?On 30 Jan 2002 in Personnel Today Gainingan MBA can be a real career accelerator and gain you a place on the board butas Nic Paton discovered, it is also essential to ensure you grasp fundamentalstrategic and business objectivesHeatherSalter, HR director at entertainment company Clear Channel Entertainment,graduated in September as an MBA from the Open University Business School. Aformer secretary, she has worked her way up through Grand Metropolitan (aswas), Scottish & Newcastle and Apollo Leisure to a point where, if itwasn’t for the fact Clear Channel is owned by a US parent, she would now be onthe board.Forher, securing an MBA on top of her OU degree and IPD qualification was notsimply an option, it was a necessity. The course, three years of distancelearning modules, tutorials once a month and a residential element, was a toughjuggling act.Butif she wanted to have credibility with the people who mattered – the board – togo onwards and upwards, she felt she needed the qualification.”Inow have a language that lets me communicate with them. The MBA has alsochanged my whole way of thinking. I am much more likely to look at what thebusiness 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.”Itis true, very few people in HR either have an MBA or intend to do one,”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.” TheHR profession is increasingly being urged to talk the language of business. HRprofessionals in turn often bemoan the fact they are perceived by chiefexecutives, financial directors and chief operating offices as non-core – auseful, if slightly, well, woolly adjunct to the real business of making money.Management often sees HR in much the same way it views public relations – gladit’s there, particularly in a crisis, but for God’s sake don’t let them get tooclose to the big stuff. ForMike Jones, director general of AMBA, the fact this view still prevails in manyboardrooms around the country, is “a real shame”. But HR can be itsown worst enemy, preferring to focus on “technical” qualificationssuch as the CIPD and ignoring the need for general business skills, he argues.”Itis essential that the HR director or manager has a very strong understanding ofthe constituent parts of the organisation. In many large companies, having an MBA is a prerequisite for getting onthe board. It is the only management qualification that gives a broadperspective on the various functions and functionalities of the business,”he says.JuliaTyler, director of the MBA programme at London Business School, agrees.”What the MBA will do is move you out of the HR ghetto and give youknowledge of the general business functions,” she says.Yetin one sense the MBA has become a victim of its own success. The range andbreadth of courses now offered by a plethora of organisations and institutions,some good and others distinctly less so, has devalued the qualification’scurrency. It is important, therefore, to pick a well-respected course. Out of124 schools in the UK offering MBAs, AMBA only accredits 34. And these 34account for two-thirds of all MBA students. “TheMBA has lost its exclusivity, but against that it has become the mainstreammanagement qualification,” admits Jones.Thequalification 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.”Ifyou are about to get on the board of a FTSE company the probability is that youare 35 to 40 years of age and are pretty high up your chosen ladder. You willprobably already have done a general management programme or an MBA. Typically,people who do an MBA are the high-fliers in the 25-to-35 age bracket,”says Murray.Analternative 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.”An MBA 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.”Youcannot just say that HR directors are not on the board because they do not haveMBAs – that is deeply far fetched. It is about knowledge, skills andpersuasiveness,” says Murray. “An MBA is extremely useful. It givesyou a vocabulary, an agenda that lets you relate to the business. But thefurther up you go the less it is about qualifications and the more it is aboutyour experience, determination and drive.”Neithercan the qualification teach an executive what life is really like on the board,whether from an HR background or not, argues John Weston, head of the centrefor director development at the Institute of Directors. An MBA will give you asound under-pinning of effective management, but the IoD also runs a diploma incompany direction that aims to offer clear, distinct guidance on how to leadand be a director. About 300 people a year go through the course. “Most MBAs miss the unique difference ofbeing on the board. Managing and directing are not the same thing. There is thecollective responsibility, different legal duties and responsibilities. It isabout operating beyond your function and specialism,” says Weston.HRpeople need to start to emphasise HR’s strategic nature, he adds.”Managing directors and financial directors tend not to understand thatconcept very well. HR professionalsreally have to blow their own trumpet more. They have to say, ‘This companywill not work unless you have an effective HR strategy in place’. They could beleaking their best people like a sieve and not know it.”Forthe HR professional looking to progress up the greasy pole, it appears thequestion of acquiring an MBA is increasingly becoming one of when rather thanif. Of course, some HR high-fliers will continue to make it to the board withoutMBAs. But, if HR professionals want to win the battle to become an integralpart of their organisation’s strategic and business objectives, then the MBAmust become a key weapon in their arsenal.WhereMBAs come in the pecking orderDoctorates:PhDscan be a useful tool for focusing on business issues or problems, but they aremore usually for the serious academic. Nevertheless, they can add gravitas toan already solid CV*SpecialisedMasters Degree: Graduatesshould be able to show an advanced level of academic and conceptual thinking and understand their functioninside out. But while they should give a sense of the broader business picture,they may also be tightly focused on a specific function or discipline** * *MBA:Givesa credible grounding in general management and administration skills. Graduateswill be expected to be able to “think outside the box” when it comesto their function, be real business players and, probably, on a fast-track tothe board** * * *ManagementDiploma: Showsyou’re thinking widely about your field and how best to work within yourorganisation ** *CIPD:Avital qualification for any self-respecting HR professional, but worth gettingbehind you as fast as possible and then moving on **Key:** * * * stand for excellent, through to * which has less relevanceMBAskills need continuous updatingOnceachieved, an MBA will need updating. Indeed, a central tenet of any good MBAprogramme is an expectation for life-long and continuous professional development.FormerMBA students are generally encouraged to remain in touch with their collegesthroughout the rest of their professional working life.Fourmonths ago, AMBA launched MBAcademy as a specific initiative to tap into thisneed for life-long learning among MBA graduates. The academy offers members aseries of five-day refresher courses designed to update their management skillswith the latest thinking, open them up to new ideas and simply allow them timeto rethink some of their management beliefs.Amongother initiatives, Roffey Park launched its Strategic HR Network in September. Thisforum comprises some 30 HR professionals who can share views, contacts, bestpractice and hold discussions at least twice a year. The members will also begiven software to allow them to keep in touch through their computers outsidethe meetings.Thisarticle first appeared in the February 2002 edition of Global HRmagazine. To subscribe click here Comments are closed.