MBA or no MBA??

MBA or no MBA??

By Rajesh Setty on Thu 17 Mar 2005, 9:53 PM – 16 Comments

Seth posted an interesting article a few days ago on his blog suggesting that it may be better to read a right set of books instead of attending an MBA program. So many people wanted to know the answer to the million dollar question – “What are those right set of books?” No one right answer, of course!

This initiated a set of posts by a few others and all of them were interesting.

There were even listings of books that could substitute an MBA program on variety of topics. The lists were great and were worth taking a look.
a) The Josh Kaufman Personal MBA program
b) The 30 Book MBA in entrepreneurship

This made me think about the whole thing –  to invest in an MBA or to not invest in an MBA.

However, the consultant in me says the answer is “It depends” and, I also question the question itself. I think we are asking the wrong question.

I have seen people with MBAs making the most out of what they got out of it and I have seen people with MBAs almost working as if it added zero value to them and there are folks that are in between.

The same applies to reading books. I have seen people reading a few books and applying what they learnt very well and I have seen people reading a ton of books and not appplying a thing that they learnt out of them and there are folks that are in between.

I have also seen people with MBAs and read a lot and you know all the combinations by now.

The keyword for me is leverage. MBA can be an education that someone can greatly leverage. Some of the things that immediately come to mind:
a) Networking
b) Access to brilliant minds (through lectures and other events)
c) Awareness – Well, we may not use everything that we learn there but it’s good for us to know that these things exist
d) Seal of approval – It’s an entry criteria in many places
e) Structured thinking – as compared to “on the job learning”
d) Resources to test things out in a controlled environment

One could argue that everything above could also be achieved by reading a few books. We know that – that may be stretching a bit. There was also an argument about losing time. I don’t agree with that either. What about opportunities and possibilities that may be created because you are with a diverse set of folks during your MBA. During these discussions there may be sparks of creativity that might lead you to create something huge (like Yahoo! or Google!)

The point is not to get carried away on a point of view of whether an MBA is required or not required. The key is to see whether we are leveraging all our resources to the maximum possible. MBA is one such resource? The right question is not whether you have it or not. The question should be – if you do have an MBA, do you know how to leverage it right?  What good is a great network if we don’t know how to leverage it well?

Same with reading. What good is reading if we don’t apply what we learn from it?

Coming back to time saving (2 years) instead of an MBA, do you know how to make the most of those two years? If you don’t, I would argue that MBA may be good. May be that will fill in some gaps. Who knows?

In life there are moments that present an opportunity with or without MBA. Are we ready for those moments and do we know to how to identify them and leaverage them when they present themselves?

What about success with or without MBA. A quick scan will show that people have succeeded without an MBA.Would their success be bigger with an MBA. No right answer. Whatever be the answer, my question would be “How do we know?”

 Take Azim Premji, of Wipro (no MBA) an Indian IT giant who took over Wipro when he was 21 and grew it to a $1.76 Billion corporation. Could an MBA have made a bigger difference? May be OR may be not!!

Comments are welcome.


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16 Comments so far, Add Yours

elearnspace  on March 18th, 2005

Informal Learning

Informal learning (I ignored the “p-word” if gives me a rash. It should be abolished): “In recent posts I have talked about the power of informal learning, and wondered why learning professionals conspicuously ignore the potential for performance impro…

Anonymous  on March 18th, 2005

So, I guess the authors of these lists take as a given that everyone already is well versed in accounting (financial and managerial), corporate finance, macro and micro-economics, etc…….As a liberal arts undergrad (History/Chinese major) , the ability to have an in-depth study on the above topics and other quantitative subjects at Wharton was invaluable as I was changing careers.

Anonymous  on March 18th, 2005

Thanks John. As we can see, there is no one right answer for this. What works for one may not work for the other.

Have a great weekend.

Anonymous  on March 20th, 2005


I think MBA provides the “common business-sense” which is not very common. I think it is a good idea for every individual contributor who works in a corporate environment to undergo some kind of business training (need not be an MBA) so that they appreciate the way business works. Employees who can understand the business bottomline can add more value to a company since they are more likely to exercise due diligence in their day-to-day tasks which minimizes liability at the top.



Anonymous  on March 20th, 2005

Thanks Ravi. I am a big believer in “Lifetime Learning” In fact, I think the real education happens after you leave college (most of the time)

You really cannot afford to stop learning as the life and business context keeps changing so rapidly that our expertise to deal with reality is constantly outdated.

Anonymous  on March 20th, 2005


I concur with you about lifetime learning. It was easy for me to discern that you read a lot of books just by the interaction that I had with you. Reading the right kind of books and applying the concepts can advance our career: no two ways about it.



Anonymous  on March 21st, 2005

It really depends on what you want to do. As noted, getting an MBA does not mean effectiveness or success.

I have my MBA. I remember most of my MBA stuff because I had an idea of what I wanted to do before my MBA. A lot of MBAers go to get the paper for a job or move up in the organisation. There are a lot of lawyers, accountants and engineers in MBAs.

What MBA does give you are the tools of the business trade. It can help you quickly analyse the competitive environment. The methodologies are sound and well structured (Porter’s Competitive analysis, as an example). But, everyone using the same tools do not necessarily come to the same conclusion. This is where the individuals make the difference like everything else in life.

While a lot of the MBA material can be self-learned, how many of us are disciplined enough to do that?

It is interesting that two of the most successful techies do not even have an undergrad degree in Applied Science or whatever, Bill Gates and Ellison. Will an MBA make you a Bill Gates? A well trained MBA will see too much in the risk analysis and tend to be more cautious.

If you are an entrepreneur (like Azim Premji) and feel the need to polish up on your business skills, think about hiring an MBA instead of doing it yourself. If you are a professional and would like to expand your scope of business, an MBA might be the right thing. Know what you want and you will get more out of the program. For engineers, knowing a bit about finance and mareketing is always a good thing.

Education is a life long endeavour. Learning from one’s own experience is only one data point in life. Education can help you expand those data points. Education in universities is the cumulative knowledge of man for your consumption. What you do with it and how succesful you are depends on you.

Anonymous  on March 21st, 2005

Thanks Valentine. Good points. Agree with you on everything especially on the point that learning is a life long endeavour

Ravi  on March 16th, 2008

Hi Rajesh,

Great Blog… I was looking for information regarding why I should do an MBA and got the information. I am 28 years old, have MS in Computer Science with 4 years of work experience for a pharma company in Chicago area and I have my own consulting business(with 5 employees),I am thinking of doing MBA from Kellogs(or top 20 schools) as they just started parttime MBA, which we can finish in 2.5 years. But my big dilemma is instead of doing an MBA should I concentrate on my consulting company and grow it? which I don’t know if I will succed in because of the competition. Any suggestion/help will be greatly appreciated

Rajesh Setty  on March 16th, 2008

Thank you for your comment and question Ravi.

There is a reason you thought of doing an MBA. Kelloggs would be a great school to achieve that objective. However, if you are looking for options outside of an MBA, there are many that exist. It requires more discipline on your end to make that alternative option work – because unlike in an MBA program, “do it on your own” programs won’t have someone to enforce the structure and discipline. On the positive side, if you get the right help, you can achieve those objectives without spending a fortune.

If you want me to explain this further, please send me a note offline with your contact details.



Anthony  on June 8th, 2008

Hi Rajesh, I think this is the first blog i have ever fully read, very intriguing. I’d like to ask your opinion; I have had few e-business ideas but I just can never start them up! Maybe I don’t know a structured way of going about it or I don’t have the right people on my side; that’s why I am thinking of pursuing an MBA. It’s not that I don’t have business knowledge, I have computer science and economics degrees plus more than 10 years in IT and project management. But perhaps I’m lacking confidence to start-up a business on my own without having an MBA to back me up. Should I pursue an MBA in hopes of coming out with skills and right people on my side or just put all that effort, time, and investment into starting something now?? Thanks.

Rajesh Setty  on June 8th, 2008

Hello Anthony,

Thank you for your kind comments.

One thing to remember is that whatever path you take (MBA or No MBA) – there are ways to realize your dream. MBA is not a bad thing nor it is a good thing, especially, if you can achieve your dreams without having an MBA.

Without knowing your complete situation, it is hard for me to give a generic advice as to whether you should or should not pursue an MBA.

If startups are your passion, then here is a starter list of articles on that topic on my blog:

The first thing I would suggest you look at is “with whom are you starting the business”. The structure and configuration to execute is the biggest challenge (bigger than the idea itself) .

Have a great week ahead.



PR  on January 10th, 2009

Amazing Blog, Amazing Comments :

My 2 cents if I may. 1) If you want to be an Entrepreneur(Ravi $ Ant) screw MBA. When you start a small company. 2)Want to strike big in the corporate world , MBA is the mantra. Also if u wanna start here and then do point 1(above).

I am doing the talk but I am actually at no where. I want a number 2(above) but I cannot get into top 5 B schools as I wasn’t that mature when I was in school and have low grades.

yinka olaito  on January 10th, 2009

Rajesh, this debate has being ongoing for years. It all depends on what we are gunning for as an individuals. For some environments where emphasis is placed on paper qualifications, MBA will be great. But where emphasis is placed on skills demonstration it may not be essential. Though the networking opportunities presented by MBA is not small and the leverage it offers.

So let each determines what he is looking for and go for it.

kuntal  on May 16th, 2009

everyone this days is doing MBA, the people who are not, are discussing whether they should or not. Its just like a trend in students like computer engineering, when job options will decrease in this field it will be abandoned, people think they will land a good job with this degree, command a team, sit in a ac office, but in my opinion better be a mba then not.

Rajesh Setty  on May 16th, 2009

On a lighter note – you say “everyone is doing MBA” so if that’s true there won’t be anyone left behind to discuss whether they should or not???

All the very best.

In my opinion, it is not whether you should do an MBA or NOT. People can succeed either way. The eBook is for people who wanted to do an MBA but for some reason (probably financial) they can’t afford to do it.



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