Why Josh Kaufman Thinks Business School Is A Waste

Then, something else happened. In March of 2005, Harvard rescinded the admission of 119 applicants who had hacked their way into the school’s computer systems to find out if they had been accepted before being officially notified. Kaufman read about the incident on a favorite blog by best-selling business author Seth Godin who had an unusual view of the incident. Harvard, Godin thought, was giving these applicants a gift: HBS was essentially returning $150,000 in tuition and two years of their lives. “Unless you want to be a consultant or an I-banker (where a top MBA is nothing but a screen for admission),” Godin wrote, “it’s hard for me to understand why this is a better use of time and money than actual experience combined with a dedicated reading of 30 or 40 books.”


A light went off. “That was the moment when I realized that this project I had been doing on my own for quite a while could be useful to a ton of other people, ” says Kaufman, a self-proclaimed “independent business educator.” Within’ days, he drafted a list of recommended books that would form the basis of a self-taught “Personal MBA,” put it up on the web and, suddenly, a flood of users flocked to it. Then, Kaufman crafted a “manifesto” to explain the idea to newcomers and to urge them to “skip business school” and “educate yourself.”

A serious and committed MBA basher was born.

During his lunchtime at P&G, where he worked in support of such brands as Mr. Clean, Swiffer, Dawn, and Cascade, he would rush off to a nearby Barnes & Noble store to read more business titles. Kaufman says he spent increasing amounts of time at the Cincinnati public library, pulling classic business texts off the shelves. When he told his mother, a children’s librarian, and his father, a former sixth grade science teacher, that he was going to quit his job at P&G to create a business out of his idea, they thought he was crazy. Still, he left P&G in 2008, moved just outside Fort Collins, Colorado, and went into business, doing one-on-one coaching and consulting for $1,000 a month and creating a 12-week online crash course delivered live and on video for $997. His website, PersonalMBA.com, features what he considers to be the 99 best business books that lay out all the basic principles of business and a community in which to discuss the ideas with others.

The Personal MBA will be published in early December by Penquin's Portfolio imprint

Kaufman’s first book, to be published in early December by Penguin’s Portfolio imprint, makes his anti-MBA case and distills the business essentials from the thousands of books he has read. Kaufman claims he is already pulling down what a freshly minted Harvard MBA would make upon joining Boston Consulting Group or McKinsey & Co. “Without any of the debt,” he quickly adds.


To Kaufman’s way of thinking, the only reason someone should go to a business school for an MBA is if they want to work for a prestige consulting firm, investment bank, or a Fortune 50 company which he says uses elite business schools as a filter to decide who to interview. “If you want to work in an industry that uses the MBA as a screen, you are effectively buying yourself a $150,000 interview,” he contends. “If you want to do anything else in business, if you want to start your own company, get a job in another field, you don’t have to have an MBA. It’s better if you don’t because of the debt.”

And even for consulting, investment banking or Fortune 50 positions, Kaufman says, the benefit is ephemeral. “The effect (of the degree) is strongest immediately after graduation,” he says, “then largely wears out within three to five years. After that, you’re on your own. Hiring managers no longer care so much about where you went to school. They care more about what you’ve accomplished since then.”

That’s a perspective, of course, that many dispute. “If that view were true, why on earth would we continue to get nearly 10 applications for every slot, given that more than half of our MBA graduates do not do one of those three things,” counters Richard Lyons, dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California in Berkeley. “Strange, isn’t it, that the recruiters continue to value these people as well, particularly outside these three areas?”

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