The Value of the MBA Degree

And you wouldn’t merely define success as just a few people at the top of big companies making big money. In a recent 2010 survey by GMAC of more than 3,000 people with graduate business degrees, 6 percent were self-employed. Dig deeper into this data set and here’s what GMAC found:

§          41 percent of self-employed alumni reported more than $250,000 in total revenues –more than double the salary range at the highest levels of other alumni working for companies.

§          A quarter of self-employed alumni (nearly 27 percent) own multiple companies.

§          Majority of these self-employed businesses were recently established, 69 percent between 2009 and 2010. New businesses often provide assistance with jump starting the economy.

§          The professional values cited by self-employed respondents as being most important is doing something they are passionate about or enjoy, and having autonomy or being the primary decision maker. They attached the least importance to job security.

§          The majority of self-employed alumni (88%) rated the value of their graduate business degree as outstanding, excellent or good.

Let’s get back to the BusinessWeek report. What kind of money are the highest-paid execs earning these days? BusinessWeek reported that on average the top 25 pulled down $22.8 million in total compensation. That figure includes salary, cash bonuses, and the “fair value” of unexercised stock options when they were granted, along with the “present value” of stock options not yet exercised. Guess who was number one? Harvard’s Gregory B. Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, who BusinessWeek reported had $87.5 million in total compensation. Number two came from Columbia Business School: Michael S. Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, with $36.3 million in total pay. Third was Harvard’s Marc Casper, president and CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Ultimately, of course, it’s not a degree that brings a person success. It’s an individual’s smarts, drive, and luck. The fact that so many of the top 25 highest-paid executives have MBAs tells you more about what kind of people pursue the degree—exceptionally smart, highly driven business professionals who have luck on their side—than it tells you about the actual degree itself.

So while the half-empty interpretation of these results is that more than half of the 50 highest-paid execs lack an MBA. The half-full analysis shows that 21 of the top 25 have the degree. In our book, there can be no better sign of the degree’s value.