Hedge Funds and Private Equity Alter Career Calculus

“I don’t think you will see M.B.A.’s less represented in executive suites, but you may see M.B.A.’s less represented in the lists of the world’s richest people,” Professor Schmalensee says.

So is business school a waste of time, or worth it for a young person starting out in a career in finance?

Peter Earle replies:

Getting an MBA was helpful for me as my academic background was in Comp Sci and History and, despite having read every book I could get my hands on, there were many gaps I needed to fill. Plus — although far less than 10 or 15 years ago — I'm told that for a sizeable number of finance/economics/business positions it remains one of the criteria used by HR professionals to screen a large stack of resumes on a "first pass" before digging deeper.
I wouldn't describe it as a waste of time, but in retrospect my career wouldn't have been much different without it. Your mileage may vary.

James Lackey asks:

What is the outcome you desire? If you want to work for Goldman you'd better start early to get into Harvard. If you want to work for the government, make connections early, be a clerk. The military, do ROTC. If you intend on working for yourself, it's best to get started early.

Without Vic and Laurel and their circle of influence, many of us would have missed out on the contacts we have made. To find a circle of erudite benevolent friends, perhaps again the Ivy League is the place to be. I was very lucky to be at the right place at the right time to meet Vic and Laurel.

What is the point of business school or being a businessman? What is your definition of success? Mine is the ability to do exactly what I love to do as a career, profit from meaningful work. Yet the huge catch: I do not want to answer to anyone.

Alston Mabry writes:

These days one must also be wary of the University of Phoenix effect. The Apollo Group has made a pile of money offering distance learning courses and degrees, and now nearly every traditional higher-ed institution is trying to compete. Distance learning wasn't invented by Phoenix, but they have used it to change the industry.

One upshot of this is the lowering of standards in many situations, especially when a degree program can be offered online and/or at night, to working professionals whose employers are willing to foot the bill. There is an incentive for the students to just "get the degree," and a big incentive for the institution to just collect the fees and definitely not to flunk anybody. Actual education, learning takes a back seat.

Henry Gifford writes:

A few years ago I spent some time at the business school at Columbia University. I was studying math for a few years, in a different building, but when my classmates wanted to study together, they usually wanted to meet in the library at the business school, thus we spent a lot of time there. The male students said they wanted to study there because the females there were better looking than elsewhere on campus. The female students said they wanted to study there because the library was the nicest on campus, and the male students said the females wanted to be there to meet a male who had high earning potential.

I sometimes read the student newspaper for the business school, and attended a lecture or two, which I think gave me some sense of what was going on. My clearest memory was of an article about a business school trip to an African country. The first day the students met with an economics minister, the next day they went on a tour of a coffee roasting facility, and the third day they went on a tour of the local Coca-Cola bottling plant, where their van got stuck in the mud. The reporter was skillful in vividly describing the complicated interactions and various stregnths and weaknesses of the different people involved with pushing the van. Then they spent the next five days at a resort on the coast, and the article ended with a request for donations to send money to help the country out of its endless cycle of corruption and poverty.
AfriqueI wrote in suggesting the best way to help the country out of poverty would be for someone to write a business school newspaper column analyzing the various stocks offered for sale in that coutry's stock market. The column could discourage buying stock of companies run by less honest management, and encourage each student to buy five or ten dollars worth of other stocks, thereby creating a source of income that the local corrupt politicians had little power over, and a source of experience and possible profit for the business school students. For some reason my letter went unpublished.
The newspaper also made it clear that students in each class were put into small groups, to encourage stronger connections between students during school, and after, when they could help each other get hired or promoted. There was also a lot of mention of the positions held by graduates, implying the purpose of the school was to have alumni provide a leg up for recent graduates. I saw little or no mention in the newspaper of actual business principles, theory, strategy, management, or sources of information on these topics.
I was left with the feeling that it was a large fraternity house subdivided into smaller clubs, which served mainly to prepare people for corporate culture — the right way to act, how to talk without saying anything, when it was neither appropriate to be silent, how to maneuver through the office/group politics, whom to challenge and whom to back down from, etc. All the skills nescessary to survive in a large organization, obtain connections that would be useful there, and have a chance to start at a level significantly above the bottom. I thought the school would be very worthwhile for anyone interested in those things.

Albert remarks:

For me B-school has provided an invaluable education. Whether it helps with job searches in the future I can't say. But I'm coming out understanding so much more of why the world works the way that it does than I did when I started.
I will say too that for a person who goes to a good school full time, the recruiting benifits are enormous in the industries that respect an MBA degree. But it is critical for a person going full time to go in knowing where they want to go afterwards as summer internship recruitment starts in the first few weeks of the first year and typically the summer internship leads to an industry job the following year.
So, like everything, it depend what you want to do with the degree.

Vin Humbert writes:

I've just started a Masters in Financial Economics programme at Oxford. I think the curriculum (as well as the physical surroundings, which are lovely) will be a good backdrop for my current stage as a student of the markets — after several years of balancing a law career with studying the markets, I'm moving towards being a full-time trader.

Orientation started today so I can't really say too much yet about the extent to which the programme is meeting my expectations. It's a pity they use MATLAB instead of R — but just as musical training in one instrument can have benefits on another instrument, I think the MATLAB finger exercises will be useful.

And, indeed, just as Albert says, classes haven't even properly begun yet and I am already supposed to be looking for a job for after my graduation in July!





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