An Open Letter to MBAs
What is it about the Stanford Graduate School of Business?
Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek posted the entire text of Shirzad Chamine’s advice to first years, a message that’s been passed down to b-school newbies for over a quarter century. Now, Jullien Gordon, a 2007 Stanford grad and “recovering workaholic” is out with his own “A Letter to MBAs” on Linkedin. While not an overt homage to Chamine’s masterpiece, Gordon updates his predecessor’s work by imploring students to live up to their potential, find their passion, and create value in the world.
But the letter does make us wonder: Has Confessionalism seeped into the Stanford curriculum? Is The Bell Jar now part of the reading list? With letters like these, you can almost imagine Stanford grads gobbing on the eye liner and draping themselves in black, marching out in the real world to The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry?”
Alas, Gordon’s article lacks the intimacy, immediacy, fluidity, and universality of Chamine’s battle to tame his inner demons. Still, it includes some cute quips (“Passion is the GMAT of Success” is witty…though the metaphor falls apart if you score below 600). Unfortunately, “A Letter to MBAs” is actually longer than Chamine’s laments (a real feat if you think about it). Despite the repetition, clichés, and shameless plug for his books, Gordon does deliver some nuggets (though you’ll need to wade through a few feet of oily muck to find them in the original letter). And his contrarian view on the value of recruiters should spark some real discussion. At times, you’ll even hear a few echoes from Chamine.
Looking for some additional guidance and inspiration as you head into the b-school bubble? Here are some of the highlights from Gordon’s column:
Dangers of Risk: “Business school students are among the smartest and hardest working, but they are some of the most risk averse people in the world. Many of us were driven by fear of not having, not succeeding, and not “making it”. We’re running as hard as we can, but we’re not necessarily sure where we’re running to. Sometimes it’s best to just stop, be still, and listen to your voice within. The greatest risk in the world is not taking any risks at all.”
Are MBAs Underemployed: “Underemployment is the biggest issue facing MBAs and the world. Underemployment is when you’re working below your full potential. Anyone who has said they hate their job is likely underemployed. Underemployment has nothing to do with income. It’s about how passionate you are about your daily work.
In addition to being some of the smartest and hardworking, MBAs are equipped with an amazing set of leadership and business skills that position them to building teams and solve the world’s greatest problems. The sad part is that most MBAs don’t seek professional paths that tackle the world’s greatest problems. If not us, then who?”
How the MBA Should Change: “MBA programs focus more on capturing value (business models) than creating value. Whereas leadership is the process of taking smart risk and creating value, management is the process of sucking risks out of a business and capturing value. Keep in mind that entrepreneurs don’t love risks—they actually hate risks. True entrepreneurs are just willing to take the risks necessary to achieve a larger purpose.
The Masters in Business Administration (MBA) should be changed to a Masters in Business Leadership (MBL) or Masters in Value Creation (MVC). This would change the focus of the curriculum, students, and programming. Though most people go to business school to change careers, it has the power to change the world.”
The Value of Time: “The only scarce resource that really exists is your time, thus making it your most valuable resource. You choose how to spend and invest it, not your company, not your parents, not your family or friends…Whoever said time is money was all wrong. Time IS LIKE money in that you can spend it, lose it, waste it, invest it, and run out of it, but Time IS NOT LIKE money in that you can’t get it back or make more of it, or measure how much you have left. Even Bill Gates can’t buy another second of time.”
Finding Your Passion: “First and foremost, I don’t believe that you don’t know your passion. It’s an easy excuse. You’ve likely been using your passion all of your life whether you know it or not, but you’ve probably never thought about it in a professional context. For example, I think Bobby Fisher, one of the greatest chess players to ever [play]. But what if chess was only a manifestation of his true passion for strategic thinking? Let’s say he didn’t want to become a professional chess player. What else could he do with that passion? I think he would make one hell of a strategy consultant, sports coach, or military general. Why? Because the same mind set required to be a great chess player is required to be great at those other things. If he could see those careers as one big chess board, the transition wouldn’t be that hard. In the same way, there is no difference between someone who is passionate about bargain shopping and someone who does mergers and acquisitions for a living. It’s the same game on a larger scale.”