Mariana Zanetti had been working as a product manager for Shell in Buenos Aires when her husband got a promotion to a new job in Madrid. One of her colleagues, a Harvard Business School graduate, suggested that the Argentine native go to business school for her MBA while in Spain.
She took his advice, enrolling in the one-year MBA program at Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School In Madrid. Zanetti borrowed money from her family to pay for the degree. And when she graduated in 2003, it took her a full year before landing a job as a product manager for a Spanish version of Home Depot at exactly the same salary she was earning three years earlier without the MBA.
For years, Zanetti says, she wanted to write the just published book but didn’t for fear that it would hurt her professional career which included stints as a product manager for Saint-Gobain and ResMed, a medical supplier. Now that she has left the corporate world, Zanetti says, she can tell the truth about the MBA degree.
THE AUTHOR ADVISES APPLYING AND GETTING ACCEPTED AND THEN DECLINING THE OFFER
Her take, in a self-published book called The MBA Bubble: It’s just not worth the investment. “There is an education bubble around these kind of degrees,” she says. “I don’t think they have much impact on people’s careers. There are exceptions of course in management consulting and investment banking where the MBA is always valued. But for the rest, it’s a nice-to-have degree. It’s not that it harmful to you, but every market expert I interviewed for the book says that what is needed today is specialized knowledge and skills and an MBA is generalist training.”
Zanetti, now 40 and living in France, says it’s not like the degree had no value. “I met wonderful people. I met brilliant professors. I learned some interesting business concepts that gave me a global vision about business. It just wasn’t worth the cost in time and money. I could have had both those things by staying in the marketplace. I had the same salary as everybody else doing the same job, working the same endless hours. MBAs get high salaries but the degree has nothing to do with it. I was hired because of my previous work experience at Shell.”
She is even advising people to apply to a top school, get an acceptance and then decline to go. Put the fact on your resume and Zanetti thinks it will have nearly the same value as going to an MBA program for two years. “It’s like being an Academy Award nominee instead of an Academy Award winner,” she writes. “But the difference between the two is mortgaging our future and accepting the risk of getting stuck with a monumental student loan.” When an employer asks why you didn’t go to Kellogg or Yale for your MBA, she advises, just tell them, “I preferred to use that time and money to develop strategic skills to benefit my employers’ competitive advantage…”
‘FEW MBAS CRITICIZE THE DEGREE BECAUSE IT MAKES NO SENSE TO SAY ANYTHING BAD AGAINST THEIR BRANDS’
Of course, Zanetti’s complaint about the MBA is hardly new. It falls neatly into the growing genre of anti-higher education tirades that decry the rising costs of education and the lack of any guarantees. But what makes her MBA bashing somewhat different is that she has the degree from a prominent European business school and has decided to write a 232-page book trying to convince others to pass on the MBA, which has been the most successful degree in education in the last 60 to 70 years.
She believes that other business graduates would fess up to the same conclusion, if not for the fact that their views would endanger their careers. “There are few people criticizing MBA programs because it makes no sense to say anything bad against their brands,” Zanetti says. “I will not make a lot of friends with this book, but I won’t make enemies, either. People need to have this opinion.”
Her initial mistake, she says, was to blindly follow the advice of her Harvard MBA colleague instead of just getting a job when she moved to Europe with her husband. “I didn’t ask myself the right questions. Everyone was getting an MBA. Unfortunately, many people take the same position.”
EXTRAPOLATING FROM HER OWN EXPERIENCE TO MAKE BROAD STATEMENTS AGAINST THE DEGREE?
Asked if she thinks her opinion would apply to MBAs from Harvard, Stanford and other elite business schools, Zanetti has no doubt. “The same would apply to Harvard or whatever school because Harvard is three times more expensive,” she insists. “The benefits would have cost much more. The arguments I make are against all business schools. The improvement is marginal. It breaks a tie if you’re competing with someone who doesn’t have the degree, but people who have scarce skills an employer needs will get the job over you.”