Ep 1 – Are MBAs Polluting Companies as One Pundit Says?

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Since this is the inaugural episode of the Master the Job Search podcast, I wanted to start off by talking about the value of your MBA. Or more specifically, how others value the MBA.

There are a lot of people who are fans of the MBA and tout its merits. However, there are also plenty of critics who don’t really appreciate it.

Elon Musk: One of the Harshest Critics of the MBA

One of the most vocal opponents of the MBA has been Elon Musk. You may have heard some of the comments he’s made. He never shies away from sharing his opinion and has made it known he has a less than favourable one about MBAs.

In the past Musk has said things like MBA graduates “may be good at powerpoint presentations but they don’t know how things work.”

In late 2020, Musk spoke at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Annual Summit. One of the comments he made was that MBAs were polluting companies’ ability to think creatively and give customers what they really want.

This commentary came as no surprise to me because it is in line with what Musk has said for years.

At the summit Musk went on to say, “I think there are too many MBAs running companies. There’s the MBA-ization of America… There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time on board meetings, and less time on financials.”


Claiming the MBA-ization of America is pretty harsh. I think this implies MBAs are a dime a dozen and anyone can get one. That’s just not true.

First of all, you have to pass the entrance requirements. If you get in, you must do the work, pass your classes, and graduate. There is also the financial piece.

Even if it is a very economical MBA program, there is still going to be a cost. Taking into account things like financial aid and scholarships, the price point will be a barrier for many people interested in pursuing an MBA.

Elon Musk is not the only big name CEO who has taken to demeaning the MBA.

Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has also been rather critical of MBAs. However, he acknowledges that he does hire them.

Of course, so does Elon Musk. But Elon Musk likes to say, “I hire people in spite of an MBA, not because of one.”

“Never Hire an MBA; They will RUIN Your Company”

Peter Thiel is a venture capitalist who started PayPal with Musk. Thiel is known for saying, “never hire an MBA; they will ruin your company.”

Needless to say, there are a number of very highly placed individuals who are not too keen on the MBA.

As somebody who’s taught in Master’s and MBA programmes for over a decade and works with MBAs who are on the job hunt, I struggle hearing this kind of criticism. There is a lot to be said for the MBA degree and I think that if it’s used properly it absolutely can help somebody with furthering their career.

Fortune 500 CEOs Holding MBAs

Who are some of those people who’ve used their MBAs to scale the career ladder?

There are many MBAs at some of the top companies. Of the top 30 firms listed on the Fortune 500, 13 of their CEOs have an MBA. Thirteen of the top 30 is just under half.

Many of those CEOs studies at the top programs, but not all of them.

Walmart, the largest company in the U.S. has been listed either in the top spot, or occasionally as #2 on the Fortune 500 list for the last 20 years. 

Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon, is an MBA holder. Believe it or not, his MBA is from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, an unranked MBA program.

Did Walmart hire Doug McMillon as CEO because he had an MBA? No, certainly not.

Did the MBA help McMillon develop his skills and gain experience that helped him land the top job at Walmart? Most likely.

What does all this mean for you? Whether you already have an MBA or are thinking of getting one, here are a few things to remember:

  1. There will always be critics.
  2. You don’t have to attend a top ranked program to be successful. There are benefits to attending Stanford or Harvard Business School. But alumni status from one of these institutions is not a golden ticket without additional work.
  3. It’s imperative you take your MBA degree and make it your own.

I find #3 particularly important for new MBA grads to consider. Very often, people come to me after having finished an MBA.

Typically, they come to me a couple of years after graduation and say, “I did my MBA part-time, at night, while I was working full-time. And I’m still working in the same job.”

Or maybe they say, “I’ve been promoted once, but it wasn’t anything significant. I probably would have gotten the promotion anyway. The MBA didn’t play a part in that promotion.”

Or they tell me, “I’m with the same company and my MBA just hasn’t taken me very far.”

This is the biggest complaint I hear from MBA graduates and the reason I’ve started this podcast.

Too many MBA grads aren’t seeing the payoff because they aren’t sure how to use their education to enhance their experience and in turn, grow their careers.

Do you feel like you are in a similar situation? Do you want to harness your MBA to progress your career?

If so, be sure to download the 4 Facts MBA Grads Must Know to Take Control of Their Careers and Design Meaningful Futures.

Over the next few episodes I’ll start laying the foundation for how you can feature your MBA degree and successfully use the skills you learned in the classroom to the find your seat in the boardroom.

The Next Episode: Are you suffering from MBA, More Bitterness Ahead, Syndrome?