Money doesn’t always make an MBA

Tom Welsh
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YOU’RE spending thousands of pounds on an MBA course (a one year programme at Said Business School costs upwards of £41,000, plus an estimated £13,250 in expenses), you’re losing one or maybe two years of wages, and you’re interrupting your career to take a business degree. It’s a natural impulse to think in mercenary terms – by how much will your MBA increase your earnings, how likely is a promotion after graduation?

Many business school rankings include calculations of these questions in their metrics. They can be useful – you’re provided with a concrete historical picture of how much previous graduates earn three years later, how this compares to their prior salary, and the percentage who quickly get employment.

But the measures admit their own imperfection. Subjective impressions, like whether the graduate felt that they achieved their career aims, crowd alongside their more objective counterparts. So, if the money and MBA equation isn’t purely mathematical, how should you choose the MBA course ideal to your career plans?

London Business School (LBS) routinely emerges as the most successful UK MBA programme in monetary terms. At a cost of £57,500 for a 15-21 month course, its 2011 employment report revealed that 93 per cent of graduates had accepted a job offer three months after graduation at an average salary of $121,206 (£74,747). This is just a snapshot. Three years after graduation, LBS MBAs can expect an average of $154,783 per annum.

Fiona Sandford is director of career services at LBS. Despite her school’s success, she says that students shouldn’t be “blinded by the money.” It’s important to think more broadly, to probe why some schools do better, and to understand how these schools might fit into your own career plans.

Sandford credits LBS’s success to two particular sources – a diverse faculty and student body, and the right curriculum balance between research and practical work.” Recruiters are willing to pay well for graduates who are “instantly comfortable in multicultural teams”, and who are familiar with “advances in business research.”

She hits upon an important point. Higher salaries don’t grow out the business school themselves but from where their graduates are able to get jobs, and how that school’s ethos fits with the demands of particular types of employer.

And some MBA students won’t necessarily be aiming for immediate salary growth. Sandford suggests a range of alternatives. “Are you looking to move sector, to gain greater autonomy at work, or for a better work-life balance.” An MBA can help with these. And they might be better reasons to choose a business degree than higher pay.

Brian Buckley, executive programmes director at the Greenwich School of Management agrees. “The MBA salary metric was far more useful prior to the global economic crisis,” he says. The era of graduates from top tier business schools naming their price has ended. “It’s a buyer’s market.”

The salary measure can also narrow your understanding of what an MBA can offer. Business schools have different strategies and cultures – they are seeking to cater to a wide range of business professionals. Greenwich, for example, is keen on “vocationally-focused management education”, according to Buckley. And this leads it to offer “an eclectic mix of specialist pathways.” If you’re a UK-based health management professional, for example, it may not be appropriate to take a globally-focused MBA with a history of providing employees to Bain Capital.

Money matters, of course. There’s little sense in investing in yourself if there’s no chance of seeing a return. But this truism can cloud a decision as much as illuminate. If salary growth is an important factor for you, consider carefully where your MBA will leave you once you’ve graduated.

For Sandford, this means taking a hard look at your potential. “Many MBAs think the best way to get the best job is to put on a mask during the recruitment process.” You may end up making a lot of money for a short period but, if you haven’t chosen your MBA correctly, you’ll likely find that your career progression ends there.