Do You Need An MBA To Climb The Corporate Ladder?

By Rachel Brown | September 21, 2011 AAA
Do You Need An MBA To Climb The Corporate Ladder?

An MBA is a substantial investment to make, but does it actually serve you well in the business world? According to the critics, MBA teaching is guilty of many crimes. Those crimes include teaching the wrong financial models, not addressing business risk, sidestepping business ethics, hiding from the real world and cloistering students in academia.

As a result, we have a generation of business leaders tainted by greed and short-term thinking. Jeff Skilling who caused Enron's financial collapse has an MBA, while Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn't even finish college.

But are these anecdotal stories correct? We look at some of the top performing CEOs and ask if having an MBA will help you climb that corporate ladder.

TUTORIAL: Financial Careers: Introduction

Top-Performing CEOs
Steve Jobs, Apple
It will come as no surprise that Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple is the top of the list. Jobs does not hold an MBA qualification. In fact, he dropped out of college after just one year. (For related reading, see Traditional MBA Or Business Graduate Degree?)

Yun Jong-Yong, Samsung
Yun Jong-Yong ranks for a good reason. His tenure saw Samsung dominate the electronics market. With an engineering degree from Seoul National University, Yun joined Samsung in 1966. He then ascended the company's hierarchy. He became Vice President of its electronics group in 1990, CEO and President of the consumer electronics business group in 1991, and CEO and President of its Japan office in 1995.

Alexey B. Miller, Gazprom
Gazprom is is the largest extractor of natural gas in the world and the largest Russian company. Alexey B. Miller does not hold an MBA qualification.

CEO Coincidence?
It is interesting that the top three performing CEOs, all considered industry insiders, have one thing in common: they do not hold MBAS.

But why is this? Is it because they're not trained to provide solutions according to formulas or structured methods of thinking that the MBA educational system teaches? Does a lack of "this is how it's done" in their experience leave more room for "let's do it this new way"? Instead of choosing from a list of options they learned from someone else, are they free to innovate? (For related reading, see Alternatives To Business School.)

Wider Findings
Perhaps these initial findings are misleading. On the larger scale of this study, where all other factors were equal, CEOs with MBAs had the performance edge over their peers. In a study of 2000 global CEOs, those with the MBA ranked 40 places higher than those without. This is a significant difference that suggests that while it certainly does not seem a necessity for getting the top job, an MBA could still be sufficient to improve performance.

MBA Edge
If the top three have made it without an MBA, why bother? Well, for some graduates, an MBA simply gives them better skills. It can add right-brain creativity to left-brain logic and financial acumen, or vice versa. It can help get the hard and soft skills to work together. For others, an MBA is a badge of excellence. After all, top schools only accept a chosen few. Most top companies look among the elite for their leaders. An MBA may also provide a network of future business contacts. This network offers opportunities and priceless advice which lasts for an entire career.

Those who choose to do an MBA are opting to improve themselves. Their openness to ideas and willingness to learn is going to benefit them all the way to the top, and probably long after they arrive in the executive suite. (For related reading, see The Real Cost of An MBA.)

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