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:

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