Recently Elon Musk said that, "I think there might be too many MBA's running companies. There's the MBA-ization of America, which I think is maybe not that great. There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time on board meetings, less time on financials." The Wall Street Journal concluded that he was essentially saying there are too many MBAs polluting companies' ability to think creatively and give customers what they really want.
Woah. Shots fired! Elon is now the richest man in America with multiple breakthrough ventures, so we have to listen to the man's opinions. I have a ton of respect and admiration for Elon and believe there is truth in what he is saying. I also believe my entrepreneurial path was opened by my MBA, so the exact opposite of what he is saying.
I'd like to break down my thoughts both as a pure entrepreneur with my own company and also an employee at a large Fortune 50 company that recruits MBAs heavily.
Pro's of the MBA:
Time to Explore: I did a full time MBA program at USC and it totally shifted my impression of my own skills from one of low risk almost robotic thinking to one of entrepreneurial high risk thinking. I was in the insurance industry before, which is one of the oldest most conservative industries around. It didn't excite me and didn't really expose me to breakthrough thinking. The MBA gave me a break to explore other things, talk with creative people and allow me to realize what I REALLY am good at. Without my MBA I could foresee myself still in my old insurance job not knowing that I actually am entrepreneurial!
Exposure to New Ideas: I took a lot of unique classes in MBA school. I took a class at Hulu that explored new media. I took a class at CAA that opened my mind to talent and creative. I took a movie marketing class where executives from different studios spoke every week. I took a digital marketing class. All of that opened my eyes to a fast changing media and technology landscape. I realized that is what I want to be an expert in going forward.
Exposure to Amazing People: At USC I was surrounded by hundreds of really successful people. In talking with them everyday it changed me. I realized that I needed to do something very different from insurance and I was inspired to make the most of my talents after seeing "the light". In talking with my classmate/roommate the idea of Sloane was born. We had talked about different entrepreneurial ideas in the car all the time and the idea of fixing the annoying white cotton undershirt sparked with me. That is where Sloane was born. If I stayed in my old job I doubt I would have been able to have this conversation and my mindset would've been more focused on doing well in the job I had versus being open to new things.
Con's of the MBA:
Curriculum Might Not Spark Creativity: I took very unique classes. Many were actually outside of the business school itself. I do see a path where you just take the standard classes that were also offered 50 years ago and you come out operating like it was 1972. Stats. Finance. Old School Management. Excel Modeling. You aren't exposed to new ideas. You are taught about bean counting and taking a conservative approach. The PRODUCT is what sells and pushing hard on PRODUCT is what drives breakthrough. You can see many companies that have cut costs to the max using these traditional tactics and they no longer have a path to growth. Bye bye.
You Expose Yourself to the Same People: The network and connections are critical within business school. It is very easy to hangout with the people you are comfortable with versus exposing yourself to diverse thinking. Some people actually see the MBA as a bit of a vacation from the realities of work and true to have as much fun as possible. Companies like Nike, Warby Parker, Rent the Runway and many more were started in business school. These founders made the most of their time there meeting people, collaborating with professors, using class time to hone their idea. That is the right path. The wrong path is to stay very insular and basically hangout and talk with the similar people you were with before you school. You don't change.
Attitude of Superiority: Many people who go to MBA school also did well in undergrad. They might have gone to a prestigious company post MBA too. That likely opened the doors to a highly respected MBA. These people start believing they are the shit. They are better than others. They have the ultimate resume and skillset. As the world shifts quickly they actually have the WORST skillsets. People don't like working and collaborating with them. Their skills are no longer relevant as technology quickly transforms all industries. Their arrogance doesn't make them self aware, so they keep thinking there is something wrong with other people versus looking in the mirror. Absolute dumpster fire.
I agreed with many of Elon's points and totally agree if you aren't focused on teh CONSUMER, which drives amazing product innovation, then you are not relevant. Trying to create breakthrough companies by just looking at financials and spreadsheets will not end well. I do also think going into your MBA with eyes wide open on the opportunity can create true leaders in today's world. People who are consumer focused, great to work with, aware of the changing environment and with the skillset to lead successful companies.
The MBA changed my trajectory and I will be forever grateful.