EDITORIAL: More than one school of thought

EDITORIAL: More than one school of thought - Business and education, earning and learning, have traditionally been uneasy pairs of bedfellows in the UK. Whereas the Americans - and even the French - founded their first business colleges well over 100 year

by Rufus Olins editor-in-chief, Matthew Gwyther editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Business and education, earning and learning, have traditionally been uneasy pairs of bedfellows in the UK. Whereas the Americans - and even the French - founded their first business colleges well over 100 years ago, in Britain the business school phenomenon has gained real momentum only in the past 20 years. It is still far more common to come across an Oxbridge-educated accountant at the head of a FTSE company than an institutionally trained MBA.

Given that we were such late starters - London and Manchester Business schools were both set up in 1964 - LBS has done well to be regularly ranked in the same top 10 bracket as the leading American schools. It is also a mark of the esteem in which it is held that it has managed to attract Dr Laura Tyson, at one point the highest-ranking woman serving in Bill Clinton's White House, as its new dean.

However, the role of business schools in commercial life remains controversial, especially for Brits. Our intrinsically amateur spirit rebels at the thought that managers might be made rather than born. Many of the UK's leading entrepreneurs didn't even finish their A-levels, let alone study for an MBA. In typical MT style, our approach to the subject in this month's 'What Did Business School Do for Them?' feature is through the people who experienced it. Instead of adding to the plethora of conflicting league tables, we spoke to business school alumni ranging from the world's leading ad man, Sir Martin Sorrell, to a manager at the Financial Services Authority, and asked them whether they'd have been as successful in their careers if they hadn't acquired this business qualification.

As you will see, the answers are many and varied, but almost all are glowingly positive. If our alumni are to be believed, you will leave with a Personal Digital Assistant filled with the most valuable business contacts you will make in your career.

If it is who rather than what you know that counts, what can a business education do for you if you already have all the contacts you need? 'You end up by believing you can run the world,' says Sorrell. Of course Sorrell, who was at Harvard in the late 1960s, knows very well that he couldn't run the world alone and that he couldn't run his massive WPP empire exclusively with MBA graduates. What he needs is a panoply of different types of people, including those whose entrepreneurial flair had them selling conkers to their peers in the playground at the age of nine and whose sole academic achievement in life was a handful of GCSEs.

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