Executive Education is Useless


I got an email from INSEAD’s Leadership Programme for Senior Indian Executives (ILPSIE) on LinkedIn today. Their well-intentioned mail was to..see quote below

ILPSIE is aimed exclusively at Indian managers with an average of 14-15 years of experience. ILPSIE primarily seeks to improve fast growing Indian companies’ “bench strength” of skilled general managers, thereby enabling them to successfully capitalize on growth opportunities.

bench strength“..what the ****?! And “skilled general managers“?? I have nothing against INSEAD by the way.

I feel this is standard for the Indian/old world mindset, the ignorant belief that an MBA endows you with superpowers. Once that is done one could sail into clouds of senior management. Or get a coveted role within the financial industry. Or deal with rigors of managing any business in reality.

It used to be true when life was lot simpler but not true anymore.

An MBA teaches you basic heuristics and patterns of rational thinking. Anyone with 2 ounces of motivation and 1 ounce of opportunity can get the same thing, for lower cost and possibly faster, using books plus contacts in the old world and getting online in the new world. The value that society attached to degrees will cease being relevant. Old world HR departments, who cannot judge your technical skill, will still want to know if you have a degree and how much marks you got. Ignore companies with such HR folks and think in this fashion, there culture would be messed up anyway.

Knowledge can be gained if you have the interest for it. iTunesU is worth more than every average professor you have had.

Corporate sponsorship of MBA programs is another route where old world power brokers render favors to the devout. Forget it, you can make or learn way more if you will work for it.

A piece of paper that declares what you know is crap..what you reveal, share and deliver everyday is what matters. Over a 15 year career I have known folks with MBAs from prestigious institutions and got laid off because they were clueless for anything beyond college, textbook, or routine corporate scenarios.

The world is getting complex. The Dark Age, or Kali Yuga, the ancient Hindu equivalent of “Winter is coming” already here.

What should you do? Forget MBA. Learn how to program, understand basics of finance and launch a business..you will learn as much, if not more, as an MBA teaches you.

Photo Credit: Poster Boy via Compfight


  1. Nagadityae bull says:

    Cannot argue on this. … 100 % true.

  2. Prakash Jeyapaul says:

    True! I’ve seen a team of project managers being laid off except one non-PMP certified PM.

    • Hey Prakash, was it because he/she was getting paid less because he was non-PMP certified ? Jokes apart, I am not so sure if money should be the motivation for getting MBA. I have seen people get ahead in life quite fast just because they have an exec MBA from IIM. And they have stayed ahead in the race. They really value the skills they learnt in these courses and are doing well in their sphere of work because of the eMBA. But still that doesn’t motivate me to do one on my own because the risk/reward ratio right now is not very favorable to me. If the company is sponsoring, its a completely different proposition. I would grab the opportunity with my whole two hands.

    • Mahesh CR says:

      Theivam..all this PMP nonsense is only in India I guess..wonder if other countries bother with this worthless paper recognition?

  3. Jim Rogers was asked for advice by an acquaintance whether to send her son to business school. Rogers inquired about the sum of money involved and suggested that the boy be given that sum to start a business. “If he is successful”, Rogers said, “he needn’t ever bother. And if he fails, he will learn what no business school can ever teach him”

    Good stuff, Mahesh.

    Post Script: I went for an executive program at the INSEAD. Oh, boy…

    • Mahesh CR says:

      Excellent anecdote Subrata! There is a cultural bias towards “markers of learning”, aka degree, aka stamp of approval from an authority that one knows something. We need degrees for “doers”, the ones who actually execute.

      PS: And did not know you were from INSEAD, searching for place to hide!

    • karthikeyah says:

      Hi Subrata, How was the program 2 Insead

  4. As someone already said, an MBA still makes sense to give you a head start, albeit at a high cost. At the very least, it’s another filter mechanism that companies use to hire a *supposedly* well qualified employee, with *minimum effort*. Its simple actually. If you are hiring and know exactly what skills you are looking for and how to evaluate, you don’t need to pass the burden of responsibility to someone else – in this case a B school. But since most companies/folks aren’t obviously as talented, they take the easy approach. Oh, this guy is from IIM, and IIM is tough to crack, so he *must* be a CAT. Pun intended.

    However, Executive education from B schools is another thing altogether. You know I went for one. The last class I attended (6 months back) was the day everyone stayed back to elect a *class monitor*. Average years of experience in the class was 11.

    • Mahesh CR says:

      Sanjay – Agree filters are useful, especially when dealing with junk one gets to see on a daily basis! “head start with a high cost” is a nice phrase, Subrata’s anecdote alluded to the same point.

      “Class monitor”? Wow! Resonates with “bench strength” and its ugly ilk..damn!! 🙂

  5. Srinivas Bolisetti says:

    Executive education programs is allowing IIM’s to make quick bucks. Nothing more.It’s bullshit.

  6. Bagyalakshm says:

    Many errors in your post and great scope to improve.

    1. The INSEAD ILPSIE program is not an MBA. If you had done some basic research you would not call it an MBA. Since your post disses MBA programs, you should have at least referenced an MBA program. Basic.

    2. No one believes an MBA gives you superpowers! Please don’t exaggerate. I dont think anyone has or can get superpowers!

    3. Not everyone wants to start a business to learn about business! Funny that this seems to be the only route you suggest.

    4. For every quote of someone saying an MBA doesn’t help there will be a quote of someone saying it does help.

    For example http://www.insead.edu/alumni/newsletter/articles/A-New-Path.html

    5. Not all knowledge can be gained on iTunes! How do you learn about approaching difficult conversations, to deal with moral dilemmas, to evaluate your decision biases or your leadership style. Peer interaction, feedback, role plays, mentors etc play a big part in leadership development.

    Also, apart from making qualitative statements that executive education is useless, do you have any data to back this claim? How many of the top management teams of fortune 500 or sensex companies have business degrees? That can be a proxy. Or if we poll participants of these program’s and ask if they have improved after the program, you can get a sense.

    But that would need analytical abilities, logical reasoning and data analysis. Perhaps you tried to learn those on iTunes. Good luck.

    • Mahesh CR says:

      Hey, thanks for the comment. Glad you think there is scope for improvement 🙂

      Few comments on your points:

      1. Btw, I did not diss MBA programs exclusively. In my view, for whatever its worth, the Executive Education program is a variant of an MBA. Instead of going after the offshoot, I went for the root. You might be right here, perhaps they are different beasts but it does not seem to play out that way in the specimens I have seen.

      2. A little rhetoric Madam/Sir, that’s all…one could indulge in it now and then, no?

      3. Only route? Nope, my belief is that running a business is a more effective route to learn about business than studying about it. And that belief stands in utter contrast to how people with right “labels” are seen to be better “qualified” than those who have actually walked the walk.

      4. Fair enough. Every method of learning is of help to somebody.

      5. See, here is where we differ. I assume you refer to ‘iTunes’ as a symbol for non-traditional means of acquiring knowledge. Peer interaction, feedback etc can all be had but not as easily one would get them in a classroom setting. The real-world is vastly more complex than role plays and academic case studies. Decision biases, moral dilemmas can be ruminated upon and distilled into principles of living and leading way more effectively out of the classroom..there is a whole world of thought out there.

      Perhaps I do lack all the qualities you mention, or perhaps am busy actually building a product and a business..or perhaps everything gets done with some handwaving and weed. Who knows, you could be right..and with your analytical abilities, logical reasoning and data analysis am sure you would do awesome stuff. Leave us poor iTunes fed emaciated folks to hobble along somehow.

      Good luck!

      • I think I agree with Mahesh on most of the degree junk. I also agree there are multiple sources of knowledge as long as someone wants to learn. However what I find difficult to understand if people really understand that everyone learns differently. Some from books, some from experience, some by listening, some by reading, some by speaking. So very hard to generalize. So what is the question here ? People who are going for MBA or EE can not learn from these? BTW, where did you learn this much English? I guess you want to say you did not learn it in school.

        Someone said, to learn you need to have open mind . Don’t know if we really have one

        Keep learning whatever works for you


  7. Shatadip Som says:

    I think this matter is as subjective as the Love v/s Arranged Marriage debate!

    In my opinion, no education can be called “worthless” as such, but then we surely need to do a cost-value analysis of these programs. One, do these programs really equip a mid level professional with knowledge and tools to take up a leadership role at least at a basic level? Two, even if it does not, do they have the industry acceptance that one would be considered for such roles with the additional degree because of combination of filter criteria and the “fetish” for MBA degrees in India.

    I think most people would consider them if either of the two points above is true. If there is an MBA bubble and the bubble is lasting for the last 30 years or so, there is a good chance it would last during the course of our careers too.

    The point on “learning more if one starts on one’s own” is perfectly true. But not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, some may want to take up leadership roles in the IBMs, Unilevers and KPMGs of the world.

    I want to start on my own, hence delaying my idea of an executive management education. However the peer group, network and the possibility of gaining some real knowledge and understanding in addition to my consulting experience is what keeps me interested. But then it would cost lots of money that can actually go into my venture.

    Still thinking, will decide in the next few months. What do you guys think?

    – Shatadip.


  1. DhilipSiva says:

    Executive Education is Useless | Mahesh CR http://t.co/hze0CXa8 via @maheshcr

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