Middle Management Vanishing? Tuck Professor vs. Simon Dean

Stell Hall at the Tuck School of Business

Stell Hall at the Tuck School of Business

When describing the types of business schools whose graduates will escape the problem of fast-shrinking middle management, Finkelstein prefaces his comments with, “at the risk of sounding elitist.” But there’s no denying that students of elite schools graduate to different work opportunities than do those from lower-ranked institutions.

“Many if not all of the top business schools are not in the business of training people whose job is making sure that other people are doing their jobs. The value proposition in top business schools is different,” Finkelstein says. “We have students who want to get stuff done, who want to be entrepreneurial, even within a company . . . and are going to look at jobs that are going to create those opportunities.” Increasingly, Finkelstein believes, those jobs are in sectors with relatively few positions in middle management, such as consulting, venture capital, private equity, and technology.

‘AN AWFUL LOT’ OF MIDDLE MANAGEMENT IN FORTUNE 500
However, the dean of the Rochester University Simon Business School begs to differ. “There are still 500 Fortune 500 companies, exactly the same way there were 30 years ago – those big organizations, to me, seem to have an awful lot of layers of middle management,” says Dean Andrew Ainslie. “Even the sort of new wave of companies still have to have some system of control that requires a set of middle managers.”

Even MBAs from elite schools who end up in major firms such as McKinsey, Deloitte, and Goldman Sachs are working in middle-management, leading small teams, Ainslie says. “If they work in Goldman Sachs, they don’t go in as managing director. No school is sending people into the C-suite,” Ainslie says. “You’re reporting two to four levels below the CEO. That’s middle management, and that’s where most MBA students go and it doesn’t matter which university they came from.” Ainslie adds that MBA entrepreneurs may be an exception, occupying senior positions in small startups.
Ainslie concedes that “people fresh out of MBAs are definitely being asked to demonstrate a different skill set from 10 or 15 years ago,” and it’s over that skill set that Ainslie and Finkelstein again disagree.

LEADERSHIP EDUCATION PROPOSED AS A SOLUTION

According to Finkelstein, MBA programs should focus significant resources on teaching leadership, to equip graduates to leap beyond middle management. “There’s not a business school around that doesn’t talk about leadership, but what are you actually doing about it?” Finkelstein says. “That’s a differentiator.” Courses such as Personal Leadership at Tuck help prepare future leaders, as can leadership programs and institutes, he says.

And indeed, while top-tier B-schools have built high-profile courses, programs and institutes such as the University of Chicago Booth School’s Leadership Effectiveness and Development course, Harvard Business School’s Leadership Initiative, Tuck’s Center for Leadership, Wharton’s Leadership Center, and Columbia Business School’s Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics, lower-ranked schools have fewer such offerings, many of them concentrated in executive MBA programs, such as the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management’s new Leadership Acceleration Program. Schools in the lower tiers that have built leadership elements into their offerings include Vanderbilt University’s Owen School, with its non-credit Leadership Development Program that spans both years of the MBA; the University of Southern California Marshall School, with its Leadership Institute; and the Texas A&M Mays School, which imposes a focus on leadership throughout its curriculum via its Leadership Initiative.