Michael Frenkel, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management
The development of specialized MBA programs goes into the wrong direction. The purpose of an MBA program is to prepare young professionals from all disciplines for a management career. Therefore the seminal idea of an MBA has been to provide students with a solid foundation in business knowledge, possibly combined with some specialization during the last part of the program.
Hence, the MBA predominantly prepares for a generalist, not a specialist career. An “MBA in (function)/(industry)” reduces the seminal MBA idea to absurdity.
Already by its pure definition – Business Administration – the MBA focuses on General Management rather than on any specialized activity within the business organization, such as finance. The MBA develops a systematic cross-functional perspective on the business organization and its strategic environment.
Understanding the multidimensionality of doing and administrating business with its involved interdependencies which make business decisions so complex is key to the MBA perspective, not the in-depth knowledge of and the specialist skills for a particular business function.With this General Management focus the MBA attracts and is open for students with diverse academic backgrounds and professional experiences. This enriches the students’ learning enormously and avoids tunnel vision or silo thinking.
The profound academic skills that should be required from a specialist in a particular business function can’t be developed in a 1- or 2-year general management program of the MBA type. Many specialized MBA programs that business schools offer look like window-dressing. They basically use core courses from the regular (i.e., general management) MBA program and combine it with some focus on an industry or a function. My feeling is that this is not a real specialization, but rather a concentration in the latter part of the program. A specialized program requires a first-degree in business administration or economics. If one wanted to be honest this would then be a Master of Science (or Master of Arts) in the respective specialty area.
The development of specialized MBA programs shows a very unfortunate development: the border line between MBA and MSc programs are becoming ever more blurred. This is neither to the advantage of prospective students, as they do not know which program they should focus on, nor is it to the advantage of companies which become confused about which graduates they should recruit.
Professor Michael Frenkel is Dean and Professor of Macroeconomics and International Economics at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. He got his diploma degree in economics and his doctoral degree from the University of Mainz, Germany and was teaching at Harvard Summer School, the University of Michigan Business School, Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Emory University, Brandeis University, and several other international universities. Since a number of years, he has also been very active in accreditation institutions and served on different accreditation teams for EQUIS and the AACSB. Professor Frenkel has worked as a consultant to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Commission.