#12 We Don't Need No Stinkin' MBAs (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

U.S. News just published their special on the "best colleges" in the country. that didn't bother me. I can hold my nose and get past the idea that status mills like Harvard and Yale are considered capable of teaching useful information. It does amaze me that hiring track proven morons like Henry Kissinger to teach subjects like "How to Buy Peace with Taxpayers' Money" doesn't have some effect on credibility. I can live with it, though.

While I scanned the magazine in the checkout line, I struck a paragraph that about did me in. I was still gagging as I turned over my credit card to the kid behind the counter and she looked at me like I'd just handed her a "Catch Ebola Free" card. The phrase that nearly killed me said "advanced professional degrees like MD and MBA. . ...." An MBA is a professional degree? Obviously, the term "professional" has hit bottom without a single bounce. I can hardly breathe, just trying to draw parallels between doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, plumbers, electricians, sanitation engineers, and MBAs.

I don't understand MBAs. I don't know why people get 'em. I don't know why other people hire 'em. I don't know why the rest of us don't avoid working for companies that hire 'em. You'd think, based on history and experience, that "MBA" would be something a person would have embossed in scarlet letters on their prison shirt; or branded on their forehead.

A few decades ago, when I was scrubbing my way toward a night class engineering degree, I often wondered which class would be the one to force the knitting needle through the nostrils and into the brain. From an engineering technician's viewpoint, it seemed to me that engineers were educated to make fundamental errors that doomed their projects and products to mediocrity. Many of the engineers I'd worked with were fairly intelligent, but they regularly made incredibly unintelligent engineering decisions. When I finally found my way into 400-level engineering classes, I discovered that there were very few natural technical people left. The ones who were still around were the guys who had been convinced that "engineering is a good job." Not the ones who were burning to build something.

I'd be amazed if anyone ever went into an MBA program because she was burning to create a great company that provided great services or products. MBAs start their college careers aiming at "a good job" (lots of money and no work) and end their business careers making sure that nothing is left for whoever comes after them. The only other "profession" I can think of that resembles MBAs is "politician."

Just about every mid-sized-to-large company in the USA is being overrun by MBAs. (Very few small companies can afford MBAs, since their purpose is to survive and provide their owners with a profit.) Engineers are getting an MBA as their "advanced degree." Lawyers are adding an MBA to their credential list. Accounting, Human Resources, Computer Science, science, and even Fiz-Ed majors are collecting an MBA to tack onto their business cards. I'm pretty sure, we're all supposed to be impressed by this addition to the list of their expertise.

I'm not. I spent half of my life in college. I fought my way through administrative obstacles in five different schools. I never, ever, not once, heard a college student say, "When I get outta here, I'm gonna start up a business and run it just like this college. I never had better service. Never met more competent administrators. This place is a model business! I wish my school sold TV's, I'd never see the inside of a Best Buy ever again." Nope, I never heard that kind of statement one time in 25 years of attending college. I'd be amazed if such a stupid idea ever crossed anyone's mind.

What I want to know is, if colleges are the polar opposite model for how businesses should be run, how do colleges have the gall to teach "Business Administration?" Isn't this a lot like asking a white supremacist to teach cultural diversity? Why would anyone with a worm-sized brain have any interest in someone who was taught how to run a business by a college? God knows, but big business does have a strong lemming tendency. When one brain-dead MisFortune 500 company gets a little press for a really moronic idea, the other 499 jump off the same cliff without a moment's consideration.

One of the primary things I've learned from whoring myself across seven states and five industries is, when it comes to managing a business, "if these idiots can do it, anyone can." Or, as William Goldman said about the film industry, "nobody knows anything." This has never been more true, than since MBAs started taking over the world.

March 1998

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