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New Fletcher Dean: US MBAs Fail To Create Leaders

Shrewdness about emerging markets and cross-disciplinary approaches are the only tickets to success, argues ex-Harvard lecturer


Sat Feb 26 2011

Speak to the MBA course director of most top US business schools and you’ll hear how they create leaders and offer global experience.

"I respectfully disagree with both,” says Bhaskar Chakravorti, who was this week appointed as Dean of International Business at The Fletcher School.

“They don’t create leaders because their courses merely turn students into strong analysts in, say, finance, marketing or advertising. The schools hope the students might eventually come to see the bigger picture through exposure.

“But most MBA graduates don’t - they stay in a narrow field. They can't connect the dots between international business, history, the environment, politics and so on.”

And this, he claims, means they don’t become leaders in the modern business world.

As for being global: “US schools are in fact very US-centric.” Much of the study is focused on America, and even though students might occasionally be sent off on study abroad programmes, “they aren’t learning about the global market because they can’t in such a short time.”

Of course, Dean Chakravorti isn’t completely neutral. Part of his new role is to sell The Fletcher School’s Masters in International Business as an alternative to MBAs. But he believes this task is easy enough.

“The sheer number of grads I speak to who are fascinated by issues in international affairs! But at the same time they're encouraged to go out and get a ‘professional’ degree to get a real job.”

“So they suppress their interest in international studies and go off and do an MBA. Well you don't have to. There's a tremendous amount of leverage you can get from combining that interest with business.

“We're all riveted by the events in the Middle East,” he says. ”But on any given month you open up the newspapers and you have headlines that crop over from the front page to the business page.

“These issues are going global and so we need people who can combine the dots. We provide that ‘connect the dots’ process alongside the analytical focus of an MBA.”

On this point, The Fletcher School is putting its money where its mouth is: they recently set up the Centre for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME), an international forum where people from all fields are invited to share ideas and receive training and advice on establishing businesses. Postgraduate students have the chance to contribute to CEME’s work alongside a selection of faculty and prominent international figures.

The idea was gleaned from a world-famous business case. “Apple’s greatest innovation was creating a platform for independent developers to create programs on top of their product,” he says. “They enabled others to share creative ideas and do a better job than Apple ever could themselves”

Likewise, Dean Chakravorti accepts that the faculty and research fellows at CEME could never provide every answer or insight. “The knowledge is in the emerging markets themselves. So we hope to be an international hub for ideas, a connector.”

But why focus CEME on emerging markets in particular? Because, he says, they are the future: “just look at the numbers!”
Major emerging markets are currently growing at two to three times the rate of mature ones, who failed to bounce back after the global recession.

“And there's so much headroom for growth in any emerging market, so you can expect this to continue for a significant portion of our students' lifetimes.”

After all, he asks, where is the unmet need in Stanford? “Everything looks beautiful! So you wonder how much runway there is for entrepreneurship.”

In developing countries, however, it’s hard to see anything but unmet needs: “Nutirition, education, upward mobility, electricity, overcrowding, drinking water - it goes on.” And in the eyes of an ex-Havard Business School lecturer like Chakravorti, these equate to business opportunities.

“Also, when you travel to these places. you get a sense of incredible optimism and energy the moment you get out of the airport. This is lacking when I get off the plane in London, New York and even Tokyo.”

But if this is the case, many international students might wonder why they shouldn’t just go and study at a school in an emerging market. After all, the latest FT league table shows Asian schools are fighting their way into the global top ten, led by IIM Ahmedabad.

Himself a graduate of Delhi University, Dean Chakravorti replies: “If a student is interested in working in India or the Asian markets, then sure.”

This is a surprising response, given Chakravorti’s new appointment. He even goes on to admit that some Asian schools have their merits.

For one thing, “it’s much, much, much harder to get into IIMA than Havard Business School and so the student body is far more selective.”

Also, he adds, by ‘borrowing’ and improving upon the best aspects of US school facilities, many Indian schools are leapfrogging the same US counterparts that helped found them in the first place.

But Dean Chakravorti nonetheless insists that the smoking gun sits with US business schools: only they can offer “a ticket to working anywhere in the world.”

“And this will stay the same for a long time. An Indian MBA just won't have the same international leverage.”

Despite his claim that US schools concentrate too much on US questions, he warns that Indian schools suffer from the same issue to a chronic degree. The lack of foreign students and an obsessive inward focus on Indian development stop Indian MBA graduates competing on the global job market, Chakravorti says.

So that leaves US schools as the best option. And, remember, Dean Chakravorti claims the best option in the US isn’t an MBA; it’s the Fletcher School’s Masters in International Business. Everyone convinced?