Getting Unstuck From Middle Management |

Getting Unstuck From Middle Management

By john T

Updated December 17, 2014 Updated December 17, 2014

This article is sponsored by the Nanyang Business School at Nanyang Technological University. Learn more about Nanyang’s MBA program.

Middle management can seem like a sort of purgatory. Trapped between the lowest and highest rungs of an organization, middle managers often enact directives while having little influence upon the direction being taken. Looking upward, they see opportunity blocked by what Fortune Magazine once called, ‘the gray ceiling’ – the Baby Boomer generation, which it reckons to be 80 million strong.

Plummeting 401ks and real estate values have kept many of them in place long after it was expected they’d retire. Many Generation X middle managers are now also having their heels nipped by hordes of young, tech savvy Millennials.

Those who feel trapped in middle management often view education as the best escape route. But even with a fresh MBA, climbing the ladder can be easier said than done. That’s part of the reason Curtis Odom advised Fortune readers to pack their passports. International experience, especially in Asia (it’s the Asian Century, after all) can offer a direct route for those seeking that corner office.

One of the prime locations for MBA study in Asia, offering a firmly entrenched business climate with close links to both East and West is the city state of Singapore.

Study in Singapore for a gentle introduction to Asia

While India, China, and the ASEAN nations offer high growth, culture shock can be an issue for students coming from the West. MBA Study in Singapore can be a far gentler introduction to Asia.

In a recent study by ECA International, Singapore ranked as Asia’s most livable cities, beating rival Hong Kong in air quality and topping the list in categories like ease of doing business and transportation. Although sometimes derided for its high cost of living, Singapore’s appeal to the upwardly mobile is by design. When the city-state was founded, English became the primary language taught in schools. This played a key role in forging a distinct national identity within the region; one which was extremely appealing to expats. The island’s low taxes and regulations along with its well-educated workforce were seen as the best way to attract international businesses. The approach seems to have worked.

Today the island boasts one of the highest per capita percentages of millionaires in the world. The Boston Consulting Group’s Global Wealth list reveals that 82 in every 1,000 households in the Singapore boast private wealth in excess of US$1 million.

Of even more interest to aspiring executives hoping to escape middle management perhaps is the fact that many of Singapore’s millionaires are newly rich – more than half earned their fortune in the last decade. Singapore is top-rated for ease of doing business according to The World Bank.

Local universities like Nanyang, of course, play a key part in this. Choose to study in Singapore and you may find unexpected doors opening for you.

MBA in Singapore opens doors

Living in an upwardly mobile, high growth metropolis can be intoxicating. It also presents its share of challenges. Nanyang University strives to connect its students to this rarified world by providing hands on opportunities for middle managers through programs like the Strategy Projects at Nanyang (SPAN).

SPAN offers a unique opportunity for those earning an MBA in Singapore. Participants collaborate with partner organizations on a mutually-agreed industry project. “Traversing three trimesters, in teams of up to seven, and under the guidance of a partner-sponsor and a faculty supervisor, MBA participants are challenged to develop innovative and practical solutions that address management issues and leverage on business opportunities,” the school’s website explains.

SPAN participants collaborate on a variety of projects addressing issues like business expansion, market profiling or value chain analysis. Past corporate partners have been in a variety of industry sectors including automotive, retail, financial services and construction and property. These businesses receive strategy analysis without having to pay a project fee, while students earning an MBA in Singapore get an opportunity to interact with numerous companies who also offer postgraduate opportunities.    

SPAN is one reason the school’s MBA was recognized by MBA employers and leading academics as being one of the top five programs in the Asia-Pacific region.

Business Professor of the Year

Rankings matter. But for many MBA students even top-ranked schools fail in one important criterion: the quality of teaching. Business professors who gain acclaim for scholarly research may be challenged trying to translate their knowledge to a class of aspiring MBAs. This year, those considering earning an MBA in Singapore have another reason to consider Nanyang.

Last year over 200 business professors across the world competed to be the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Business Professor of the Year. The finals were held at London’s Hult International Business School where 40 students from 20 different business schools attended four lectures, in a contest dubbed ‘Prof Idol’.

In the end it was Nanyang’s Vijay Sethi, an IT professor who won the award along with US$100,000. Although he told the BBC that, “The whole notion of a teach-off is a bit tough,” Sethi also reflected “[The competition] made me feel how I did when I first started to teach – it was fun.”

As The Economist points out, “The award is meant to recognize the art of teaching. This is all too often forgotten when prestige is divvied out to those whose reputations are built on research, book-writing and media-whorery. Insipid teaching is one of the biggest complaints of MBA students who have paid tens-of-thousands of dollars to sit in a business school classroom. Frankly, they deserve better”

With Nanyang’s commitment to helping those in middle management who want what the school describes as “customized learning experience, international exposure and hands on Asian industry experience,” it’s not surprising to hear MBA student Lim Li Qin reflecting on YouTube, “What really struck me was, on top of being able to learn from the professors, we were able to learn from the classmates. The classmates came from different backgrounds and had different experiences – some of them had very vast working experience. I realized that it’s not about classroom learning, it’s not about just learning from your professors. It’s about learning from your classmates... and I really appreciated that part.” 

This article is sponsored by the Nanyang Business School at Nanyang Technological University. 

This article was originally published in November 2014 . It was last updated in December 2014

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Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.