Four experts in the core specializations from leading business schools explain what goes on in their particular management domain and why it is important for MBA success.
The MBA is widely considered to be a general management qualification, educating MBAs in overall management skills so as to understand the function of a business as a whole, sometimes referred to as a ‘helicopter view.’
But within virtually all MBA programs there are what are called the ‘core specializations’ and most business schools will feature these heavily in their syllabus.
Not to be confused with specialist MBAs, which students usually select through electives according to their desired career in management, knowledge of the core specializations is deemed essential.
MBA in innovation
Howard Anderson is a renowned expert on innovation and holds the William Porter Distinguished Chair at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With a long business background, he is also the founder of The Yankee Group and the co-founder of Battery Ventures:
“Can innovation be taught or is it inherited? Answer: both. If you have a spark, a great school can develop it. If you don’t… never mind.
“Here’s a hint: we don’t ‘teach’ anything, you learn by discovering. Instead of a silly lecture about ‘globalization’, [MIT] will send you to a different continent with a team to solve a logistics problem. Instead of lecturing about what an entrepreneur is, you will come up with your own idea, form your own team and build a company. If you are at a school that does not do that: demand a refund!
“Most people are going to get an MBA because they want to change their careers in some way – either going to a different company or pick a different skill set, right? If you are going back to that same job, just getting your ticket stamped, stay at home. An MBA program is too long, too hard, and too expensive for just that.
“If employers could isolate the illusive ‘innovative’ gene and bypass the whole interview process by just having you submit a lock of your hair, they would. But no one has yet figured that out, so companies do the next best thing - they look for people that can combine innovation with experience to find better ways to do things. Innovation cannot just come from delivering products or services; it may be in logistics, in financing, in marketing. It may be in organizational design or a better way to package.”
MBA in finance
Finance has long been a popular specialization at MBA level, however after the recent global economic downturn, fresh ideas and innovation in the field are required more than ever. Professor Anant K Sundaram of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth explains how the top MBA programs tackle the subject.
“In both its theories and in practice, the core ideas in finance are founded on a set of logically cogent ideas. There are few disciplines taught in business schools where academic research and the real world come together as remarkably well as in finance. The ideas that underpin the field not only win Nobel prizes regularly, but they also form the basis upon which billions of dollars change hands every day.
“That said, there are many questions that finance still continues to grapple with. For example: What causes recurrent financial crises? What is the role of ‘long tail’ risks, and how can they be better understood and analyzed? Why do we witness apparently predictable irrational investment decision-making by investors and managers? Why do markets and companies seem prone to herd behaviors? How can corporate governance practices and incentives be structured so as to produce value-creating outcomes for the long-run as opposed to the short-run? What is the right balance between free markets and regulation in enabling the best outcomes for society-at-large?
“Finance education, which includes some of the top MBA programs, continues to make exciting progress on all of these important questions.”
MBA in operations management
ESADE Business School consistently appears in QS’ top 20 for MBAs specializing in operations management. Professor Miguel Angel Heras, director of the department of operations management and innovation at ESADE explains why operations management is often thought of as the primary function to many organizations.
“Operations management is the corporate area in charge of designing, managing and tracking different processes. These processes are made up of interrelated, sequential activities through which the components and actors required (raw materials, labor, capital, information, the client, and such) are transformed into products. The key is the value added through the process as perceived by the customer, i.e. the end product has a greater value than the elements pre-process.
“At ESADE, the department of operations management and innovation applies a global focus to operations. Its aim is to stay a step ahead of companies’ current needs, giving MBA students the knowledge, skills and perspectives they need to create value for their firms in the future.”
MBA in international management
Historically the realm of larger organizations, an increase in the ease of communication and international travel has enabled more SMEs to compete at an international level over the past two decades. Markus Venzin, professor of global strategy at SDA Bocconi School of Management explains why managerial knowledge at an international level is a plus point on any MBA’s résumé.
“Due to an increased level of globalization, most firms are forced to operate on an international level by seeking supplies and/or selling their products and services abroad. This, in turn, has boosted the need for managers that are capable of operating in a multinational context.
“Successfully building an international firm is highly dependent on specific market contexts as well as the resource and capability endowments of the internationalizing company.
“Suggestions such as ‘expand internationally or die’, ‘penetrate local markets as quickly as you can’ or ‘avoid strategic alliances’ may seem alluring but are in most cases misleading. This is not surprising. One size fits all strategic advice is seldom adequate or appropriate.
“International business is more complex than operating in just one national context because of the increased cultural and regulatory diversity. Most multinational firms are bigger than purely national ones. Organizational mechanisms such as coordination and decision processes are more difficult to understand and to handle."
Each year, QS produces the Global 200 Top Business Schools Report which asks MBA recruiters to rate the world’s top MBA programs regionally, and by specialization.