Why MBAs Haven't Mattered Since the 90s
Business school is a bad idea for aspiring entrepreneurs.
At least, that is the viewpoint of Cliff Oxford, a three-time Inc. 500 CEO and former IT manager at UPS. In his own career, Oxford found his M.B.A. (from Emory in 1994) to be helpful: "It gave me exposure to other disciplines beyond information technology, like marketing and strategy. The accounting and strategy courses were useful even when I was building my business," he writes in the New York Times.
A New Era of Business
So what's changed, since then? Mainly, for Oxford, the pace of competition. "When I started my company, STI Knowledge [in 1995], we had about three years to stay ahead of the competition. With today's technology, entrepreneurs tell me they have about three months. Data that used to take days or even months to acquire can now be obtained in real time. With the new speed of business, the traditional M.B.A. and the classroom have been left in the dust," he writes.
Oxford has a simple message for entrepreneurs considering b-schools: Don't do it.
The exceptions? Stanford and Harvard, whose alumni networks make it worthwhile. But outside of those schools, "Go only if you find a program that offers real-world experience, working alongside someone who is building a business," he writes. "Otherwise, while I wouldn't say the current traditional M.B.A. is useless, it is pretty much like having athletes studying game film but never practicing on the field."
No question, Oxford's case is compelling, and he has the experience to back up what he says. And he's not alone. Other experts and founders have made similar arguments. Some say a classroom will never be able to teach business survival skills, like coping with failure and the pitfalls of optimism. Others assert that the six-figure price tag could be better spent. Then there's the notion that there are too many people out there sporting M.B.A.'s these days--so the degree no longer carries the distinction it once held.
While it's easy to admire these strong takes on the topic, it's worth mentioning that there are a few notable post-90s entrepreneurs who are, indeed, the products of MBA programs not named Harvard or Stanford.
Whether these entrepreneurs regret their schooling is a subject for another day. Suffice it, for now, to simply list these M.B.A.'s with entrepreneurial chops. Is there anyone we missed? Feel free to add him or her in the comments.
Company: Warby Parker
Founders: Neil Blumenthal, Jeff Raider, Dave Gilboa, and Andy Hunt
M.B.A. from: Wharton, where the quartet famously met in 2008
Founder: Jessica Kim
M.B.A. from: Northwestern's Kellogg School of Business, 2005
Founders: Matt Maloney and Mike Evans
M.B.A. from: Maloney's is from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, where the duo won a business-plan competition with their idea for GrubHub in 2006. (GrubHub is now GrubHub Seamless.) Both left school to focus on GrubHub. Maloney completed his degree in 2010. Evans did not return to school.