MBA? Or Should It Be an MBS

The MBA is dead! Long live the MBS

According to Wikipedia:

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a master’s degree in business administration, which attracts people from a wide range of academic disciplines. The MBA designation originated in the United States, emerging from the late 19th century as the country industrialized and companies sought out scientific approaches to management. The core courses in the MBA program are designed to introduce students to the various areas of business such as accounting, marketing, human resources, operations management, etc. Students in some MBA programs have the option to select an area of concentration and focus approximately one-third of their studies in this subject.

As I read the above definition in light of what modern MBA programs have produced, I am thinking: “What planet is Wikipedia from?”

When I think of the word “administration” in the MBA title, I am left confused. The word itself is not the problem, inasmuch as when I think of the “administration of justice” I can actually visualize the due process that the legal system promises. But, what the heck does “administering business” mean?

I think that others are just as easily befuddled. In that confusion, the wiggle room is created for people to use the MBA to advance their own selfish agendas. Sadly, a more accurate description of what the MBA has become of late is what I would call the MBO, which stands for Masters of Business Opportunism.

Trust me, I am all in favor of recognizing and seizing opportunities.  Without the ambition to raise oneself to life’s challenges, growth and innovation would never happen. My problem occurs when seizing an opportunity crosses over into being opportunistic, which is why I am not thinking of MBO as Masters of Business Opportunities. In fact, I wouldn’t mind the term, Master of Business Opportunities, if it weren’t for the fact that it fails to screen out the opportunists who are all about taking advantage of others.

People who can’t take advantage of opportunity,

take advantage of people.

Think I am being too negative? When I have asked MBA students how they believe their fellow students would candidly answer the following question: “Would you rather be rich in ten years or add value to the world via business?” they have responded that many in their class would choose rich.  [That by the way is not much different from many Millennials, who similar to many in the financial world, are motivated only by material gain.  Isn’t that what incentivizes many of the people at Goldman Sachs?] Interestingly, they also say that most of those who would choose to add value are in large part foreign students. [Note: I asked them how they viewed their fellow students, because most people when asked such a question about themselves would be hesitant to choose the more greedy and less noble answer.]

I have seen this greed and self-serving ambition in action when I have been in meetings with business people, many with MBAs on their resumes. It’s amazing how the testosterone in the room stops abruptly whenever someone asks, “How can we better serve our customers and clients?” The pregnant pause can be long enough to deliver octuplets.

That pause is quite revealing.  What it reveals is that the mindset is so fueled by self-serving greed and ambition that such a question causes everyone to become at least momentarily disoriented.

Another way of demonstrating how self vs. other serving most business people are is to allow them to make their case and their pitch, pause and then ask, “I can see how this is a good deal for you, but tell me in detail how it’s a good deal for me?”

Again a pause in the response can be quite revealing. In fact the longer the pause, the more likely it is that they are so focused on racing ahead to win the deal or make the sale that they are unable to put themselves in your shoes.

The name Masters of Business Administration may have been fine for the late 19th century, when the notion of advanced education was meant to be more reflective, analytical and thoughtful in better serving the business world to be more successful.

However in recent times, it appears to be less of an education than a breeding ground for future “barbarians at the gate” who criticized as they might be, are still privately seen as role models of what to become.

B-schools have become the equivalent of B-movies where B stand for the baser human instincts (and values) of greed, ambition and arrogance which have held sway at MBA programs for too many years.

I can think of two alternative terms for what an advanced business degree should be, either an MBV, Masters of Business Value, or MBS, Masters of Business Service.

Master of Business Value has a nice quality to it, in that “value” in not too foreign a term to the business world.  One can certainly ask themselves after using their skills to assist a business, did they add value, and I think even many quants would get that.  However, my concern is that like the term “administration,”  “value” leaves too much to interpretation and can still be twisted to easily serving self-centered ambition.

Therefore, I am more in favor of Masters of Business Service, because “being of service” inherently provides value to others.  It is more other focused and more effectively offsets the baser human instincts of greed and dishonesty to achieve one’s ends.  If you see yourself committed to being of service – be it to your company, your community, your customers, clients, employees and even your shareholders (the greed of the latter that is often used as an excuse by business for having to cut corners and do whatever it takes to drive up stock prices) – that would seem to be inconsistent with greed and lying which are only self vs. other serving.

At the end of the day and our lives, “Wealth is what you take from the world; worth is what you give back.” And the best way to give back is to be of service.

Being of service is an idea whose time has come and one that the world sorely needs.

Share your thoughts about what the MBA of the future should be about and what it should be called.

Mark Goulston, M.D. is Vice Chairman of Steele Partners,  an integrity based business strategic advisory company founded by its Chairman Lt. General Marty Steele (former COO of the USMC) and CEO, Colonel Tom Tyrrell (former senior advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).  Dr. Goulston is the author of the #1 international best selling book, “Just Listen” (Amacom, 2010). Contact him at:

  • Mark-Goulston

    I don’t think what you said was harsh, I also like lively debate.
    In addition, I also like taking occasional poetic license to read between the lines and intuit a little bit about the personalities of my debaters. Hopefully, if I am correct, it might cause them to be aware of things that they might be doing in their personal relationships that that they could improve. And if I am incorrect please excuse my audacity.
    This of course can cause problems for people who can be “thin skinned” about such personal matters.
    All the best Stephen and please keep adding your comments.

  • Mark: thank goodness you weren’t condescending, at least. To run the risk of redundancy, you may have missed *my* point. Give it a re-read and reflect.

    A quick perusal of the current business press shows a continuing decline in what I can only call confidence in the purpose and ethical standing of the MBA. From “MBA pledges” to your own “we need to rename the MBA” manifesto, above, it seems like we’re attributing too much to the ethics and motivations of those who desire this ambitious degree.

    Lastly, Mark, a word of advice. This is the blogosphere. Expect debate, push-back and counter opinions. If you think my comment was harsh, do some additional reading. Being thin-skinned out here isn’t a virtue. Or a value, for that matter.

  • Mark-Goulston

    Thanks for your comment, but I think you were too defensive/offensive and too transactionally myopic to realize that I wasn’t choosing Master of Business Values, but Master of Business Service. And I wasn’t choosing to water it down, but to direct the mindset and skillset to be more other than self-serving.

    I think you missed the point. I think “being of service” whether it be to shareholders, customers/clients, employees or community is a necessary counterweight to blind ambition in providing value’s clothes.

    Here’s a challenge for you. Ask your spouse or closest personal friend:

    1. Do you feel hesitant to say things to me directly that you think I might disagree with or not want to hear? Yes or No
    2. How frequently does this occur when we are together? Rarely, Somewhat, Frequently, Nearly Always
    3. What is the negative effect that believing you can’t speak freely to me has on our relationship from your side? Small, Moderate, Significant, Huge
    4. What does the negative effect of this phenomena cause you to do with me? ________________________
    5. Going forward, if this is a significant problem for your relationship and comfort with me, what specific and observable positive behaviors would you like me to do and what specific and observable negative behaviors would you like me to stop permanently so that we can have a better relationship?
    6. Also in the event that I want to bring up something that you might not want to hear, but that I am doing to be helpful, what is the best way for me to communicate that to you?

  • I struggle with why so many people heap such scorn on MBAs and the degree.

    Your choice to focus on one of several definitions of administration puts us off on the wrong foot. It also means management, the ability to handle a complex or critical task skillfully. As such, receiving a Masters degree in the ability to skillfully manage the art and science of business is a pretty valuable degree. The thought of watering it down into a Masters of Business Values sounds like you’re looking for a PhD in philosophy. Service suggests perhaps a concentration in hospitality.

    Let’s agree that an MBA is a highly concentrated 2 years studying the managing of complex business. The experience gives a deeper understanding of the different facets of running a business than a student would ordinarily get on the outside. Not to mention a credential that translates well and tells a prospective hiring manager that this candidate has completed a set of experiences that non-MBA’s haven’t.

    Enough with the self-loathing! I’d rather hire an MBA!

  • Our pleasure Mark 🙂

    Been thinking about your final statement “Share your thoughts about what the MBA of the future should be about and what it should be called.”

    What if “the MBA of the future” is about being extraordinary and mindful in delivering service and value with passion and purpose and “…be called” MBM. Masters of Business Matters?

    Thank you for this opportunity to share our thoughts with you and your readers. -Dr. Rae for The Baum Group

  • Mark-Goulston

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree that too many businesses and business people suffer from “transactional myopia” (find the deal, do the deal, next deal) and don’t think of creating true value, much less being of service.

  • Thank you Dr. Mark for sharing your thoughts with us.

    We agree with you since recently we came across the need for businesses to move from being “tranactional handlers” to “trusted advisors” echoing (we believe) your core message above. -Dr. Rae for The Baum Group