An MBA Trashes The Degree’s Value

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

3d-book-homeMariana 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.


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…”


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.”


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.”

1 2 Next
  • chamesou

    And that was exactly my personal situation. I really believe that there is a huge confusion in all this debate, especially because of the title of the book, which tends to suggest that an MBA is a Bad Idea No Matter What, when in fact the idea that Mariana wanted to convey is: “Why Spending $100 000 on An MBA Could Be a Very Bad Idea”. She almost alludes to an MBA being a bad idea, even if you got it for free!

  • toufic

    Marianna, for god’s sake just go get a life. You are generalizing a single experience… Have you ever asked yourself if your incompetence had anything to do with your failure to achieve your goals??

  • MrMM 2


    I just wanted to add that my experience at an educational level was not a bad one. I got to meet a lot of people from all over the world which amplified my vision and gave me the ability to understand a problem from a variety of different angles.

    My concern has to do with purely financials and getting a job… I’m an IE 2013 graduate who cannot still get a job… Before IE I had 7 years’
    experience working on fortune 100 companies… I went to IE because I wanted to push a little further my carrier while also understanding the European company approach ( I have only worked in American companies). I already had the job I wanted at the company I wanted but thought it would be wise to broad my business view by going to B School to get an MBA. 1 year after graduation I can tell you it was not the smartest choice. I am not only unemployed but also have a debt to pay and my family is supporting me for a living. What a nice story for an MBA graduate… quite sure not what I expected before entering to B School. This is the kind of story you are not going to read in their promotional brochures… My mistake was risking my career for an illusion that was built when they sold me the program.

    However, I did had a great time at IE and think it was an
    experience that changed my life forever… but when it comes to pure financial rationales’ what’s the return on the program? My B School promised me networking (alumni does not even answer emails unless you know them personally), placement (yes sure, no job after an year and the career services does not even bother, it is always up to you to get a job and if you don’t it is because you are not doing things the right way), a job center with job postings from all around th world ( Fake postings I would call it :only people who went to IE know how bad it is…) and an 6 figures salary… None of these happened.

    So, is it worth it? Is it worth to risk your career and go into debt for a “promise” of a better future?

    Would my 60,000 Euros have been better spent on traveling
    around the world? Unless I would have known what to expect after my sabbath year…

    Or may be buying an apartment ( in my city you can get small
    apartments for 100 k USD)?

    It seems to me that MBAs are a nice programs but only if
    they deliver what they promise which, in many cases, they don’t.

    The saddest part is that many people won’t tell you these kind of stories in order not to trash their degrees which in turns reinforces the “success” MBA lie.

  • earthwalker7

    re INSEAD – just not true. My wife attended INSEAD. Yes, there are a lot of consulting firms that send people there, but I’d say no more than 8% of the class. Certainly not 50%!!! My gosh!

  • Rashid Rahai

    As an MBA myself, I can say this much MBA is a garbage degree & no one should ever pursue it. Plain & simple no questions asked.
    You never learn anything solid in MBA, I would trade my degree with an MSC in Engineering anyday.

Our Partner Sites: C-Change Media | Poets & Quants for Execs | Poets & Quants for Undergrads | Tipping the Scales

Site Design By: