Middle Management Vanishing? Tuck Professor vs. Simon Dean

Andrew Ainslie, Dean of the University of Rochester's Simon School

Andrew Ainslie, Dean of the University of Rochester’s Simon School

Ainslie sees no need for compulsory, specific leadership education in B-schools. “My personal belief is that leadership should be something that’s an elective,” Ainslie says. “Most people aren’t going to be truly leaders in the sense of leading 40, 50, or a thousand people. You don’t get those jobs when you’re 30.” Leadership education belongs in executive business programs, Ainslie believes. “Let’s be honest, how much do you remember about what you learned 10 years ago? Why are we doing it now?” he says.


And, Ainslie points out, bringing leadership into the core curriculum must in most cases bump something out. And he says there’s a much more important skills area that needs to be taught to MBA students, in response to a “huge trend” in management: the need for data-analytics skills. Ainslie says that if he accepts, for the sake of argument, Finkelstein’s hypothesis about middle-management’s disappearance, that would suggest schools need to train MBA students for the jobs that do exist, especially in a field where demand for specifically trained managers is expanding. “His hypothesis would lead me to conclude that we don’t need more leadership classes – we do need more analytics classes,” Ainslie says.

The general makeup of lower-ranked schools’ networks of alumni and industry contacts puts them at a disadvantage in providing graduates with opportunities beyond middle management, Finkelstein says. “It’s an example where the rich get richer,” Finkelstein says. “Once you have a network you can grow that network. For better of for worse, most of the top schools have that. When you go to the second or third tier, they have a network, but that network is mostly middle management.”

Schools below the top tier are not doomed to churn students out into an economy where they will find few jobs, however, Finkelstein says. The USC Marshall School and the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School have built strong and productive connections with business in their regions, becoming “big-time players” on a local level but “much less so on a national scale,” he says.

Schools can provide business education targeted at specific industry sectors that gives graduates the skills to accelerate into positions “where they’re actually making stuff happen,” he says.

Definitions of what constitutes middle management vary, but the Wall Street Journal in 2013 reported that for June of that year, average compensation for the top five U.S. middle management jobs – including positions in fields many MBAs enter, such as engineering, tax, IT, and risk – ranged from $108,000 (risk) to $124,000 (engineering).


In Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workplace report, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton wrote an impassioned defense of the role of middle management in promoting employee engagement and boosting profit. “Great managers already know what decades of Gallup research has revealed: Trying to get employees to fix their weaknesses doesn’t work,” Clifton wrote. “Weaknesses can’t be developed much at all – but employees’ strengths can be developed infinitely. “If companies throughout your country hire the right people to lead and actively encourage the engagement of their workforces, economic dominance will be sure to follow.”

Finkelstein may highlight increasing span of control as an indication of shrinking middle management, but Ainslie believes MBA programs’ placement success shows otherwise. “We had fantastic numbers, and we had great numbers last year,” Ainslie says. “People are definitely taking our product.” Ainslie predicts that the next U.S. News business school rankings will support his view. “I pretty much guarantee you that pretty much every business school is going to be reporting higher numbers of employed, and higher salaries,” Ainslie says. “I’m not sure I would want to mess too much with a model that seems to be working pretty well.”

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