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The MBA For The Anti-MBA Crowd

Professor Henry Mintzberg

Professor Henry Mintzberg

For decades, Henry Mintzberg, an academic at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, has said that the MBA doesn’t teach management properly, and if graduates enter the workforce thinking they’re trained managers, he believes they could even be a danger to society.

Mintzberg is one of the co-founders of an alternative management program called the International Masters in Practicing Management (IMPM). In 2004 he published a book, Managers Not MBAs, in which he describes how prestigious MBA programs are damaging the management discipline by trying to teach the principles of good management as if it were a science.

“It’s not a science, it’s an art. It’s a craft based on experience,” Mintzberg says. “If you put people in a classroom who have no experience in management, they can’t really understand it. They end up teaching a lot of analytics and technique, which is fine, but it’s not management.”

CREATING IMPM, TO PROVE HIS POINT

For Mintzberg, management education today is stuck in tradition. Harvard was using case studies very early on, he says, and it seemed like a practical idea at the time because the cases were real. “But what can a bunch of 23-year-olds do with a case study when they’ve never really experienced being managers?” he says.

Mintzberg says he founded the IMPM partly out of embarrassment. He was visiting business schools to talk about flaws in their MBA programs, and people started asking him what he was actually doing about it.

“You’re not supposed to ask those questions of an academic, because we’re not supposed to do anything about anything,” he says, joking. “But eventually I got embarrassed, so I said, ‘Okay, I’d better do something.’” So he created the IMPM.

DIFFERENT FROM AN MBA OR EMBA

The IMPM is a modular, international program based at McGill and four other B-schools around the world. It is different from an MBA, Mintzberg says, because it accepts a different type of student. And it’s different from an EMBA because it heavily emphasizes reflection.

To begin with, students are older on average than MBA students, and must have been working as managers for a while already. Because of the level of experience, says Dora Koop, managing director of the IMPM, participants learn from each other as well as from professors.

“The intent was that you would come and get some frameworks, and then you would go back to your workplace and apply them,” Koop says. “And then you would come back to the program and say, ‘This worked, this didn’t work.’”

During each module, students are given time to reflect on what did and didn’t work. They keep a journal of these reflections, and Koop says by the end of the program, many feel like they’ve written an entire management book. “Many go and carry that book with them throughout their careers,” she says.

FIVE MODULES ALL OVER THE WORLD

The IMPM differs from traditional MBAs in terms of location, too. Though many MBA programs have international aspects or study-abroad programs, the IMPM takes it to another level. Rather than being primarily located on a single campus, the program’s five 10-day modules are all in different countries.

The first, in the Lake District of northern England, is taught by Lancaster University School of Management faculty, where students take the time to reflect on their previous experiences as managers. The remaining modules take place at McGill University in Canada; Renmin University of China; EPABE/FGV, a school of administration in Brazil; and finally the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

In each location, the modules focus on topics unique to the area. In China, faculty at Renmin teach students about the importance of harmony and balance in the world of business. In India, students focus on developing a worldly mindset, emphasized by the diversity of the area.