Crash course in... Sponsoring MBAs

The latest management thinking isn't exactly buzzing around your building, and you would benefit from having a higher MBA quotient on the team.

by Alexander Garrett

The latest management thinking isn't exactly buzzing around your building, and you would benefit from having a higher MBA quotient on the team. But who should do it, and how will you avoid disrupting the day-to-day?

Be selective. Barry in the postroom fancies doing an MBA. With a total investment that can reach six figures at the top schools, you probably can't afford to fund him. 'The main reason for making the investment is that you equip the individual to enter general management,' says Pauline Weight of Cranfield School of Management. 'So most organisations identify up-and-coming people and invite them to do it.' You can offer a lower level of support to other wannabes.

Part-timers, please. If one of your managers embarks on a 12-month, full-time course, you could be paying their salary and fees while having to recruit a temporary replacement. Why not put them on a longer, part-time course (say, Fridays and Saturdays)? That keeps them in-post, with some compromise on all sides. The negatives are higher stress and less chance to gain an outsider's perspective of your organisation.

Put it in writing. Ask your candidate to sign a contract promising to refund your sponsorship if they leave within an agreed period, usually one to three years. 'Most MBAs supported by their company develop an obligation to give something back before they move on,' says Jeanette Purcell, CEO of the Association of MBAs.

Horses for courses. By building a relationship with a business school, you can have more input in the course design. You could go for the bespoke option and design your own company MBA. 'The core programme is basically the same, but business schools have different strengths in the elective part of the programme,' says Purcell, 'so if you're looking to gain a particular expertise, find a school strong in that area.'

Think of a project. It's possible to get immediate tangible benefit from funding an MBA if you help to choose the practical module. 'You can make it a condition of sponsorship that their project is on an issue your firm needs to look at,' says Purcell.

Feed some slack. The worst thing you can do is expect your newly qualified MBA to slot back into the same job, says Weight at Cranfield. 'This person is now going to be more marketable in the recruitment marketplace, so it's vital to have a career path mapped out for them.' MBAs are typically looking for international experience, a faster track and a chance to put some of what they have learned into practice.

Create a network. The organisation must find ways to harness what its MBAs have learned. Ford has an internal Association of MBAs; such groups can provide mentoring, peer support and learning networks.

Do say: 'We need to budget an MBA sponsorship programme fully integrated with our training and development needs.'

Don't say: 'Now you've got your MBA, can you put it away in a drawer and get on with some proper work?'

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