An MBA Or A Tesla? A Dean Answers

What is better value for money, a Tesla or an MBA? That was one of the questions posed at the Centre Court 2018 MBA Festival, held in the Tate Modern museum on London’s South Bank last Saturday, where dozens of prospective MBA students were able to meet deans and admissions staff from some of Europe’s top business schools, and hear them share their wisdom on two panels.

Steef van de Velde, dean of the Rotterdam Business School

So, what’s the answer? A shiny electric car, or a year in B-school? “An MBA is half the price of a Tesla,” said Martin Boehm, dean of Madrid’s IE Business School. “A Tesla is a nice toy and maybe it’s good for the environment, but for half the price you can invest in a transformational experience that’s going to change your life forever (see above for a video of the dean’s panel discussion)”

Steef van de Velde, the dean of Rotterdam School of Management, agreed. “An MBA is an opportunity to re-calibrate yourself, and to re-invent yourself. That is a lifetime investment and if you see it in those terms it is pretty cheap, I’d say.” That said, he isn’t convinced that it’s worth more than one year of your time. When the opportunity cost of leaving the workforce for two years is taken into account, van der Velde says, “I seriously doubt a two-year program is worth investing in.”


IMD Dean Sean Meehan

Another dean insisted that an MBA is certainly a good investment – for the world. “When you think about the challenges society faces and what MBAs can do, then an MBA should be free,” said Sean Meehan, dean of IMD’s MBA program. “If you take great people, give them a great education and put them in great positions, they will create great value. The returns to society are immense. Whether the price tag should be paid by the student alone, or others as well or exclusively, is something we should be considering.”

For now, however, students themselves are in most cases expected to foot most or all of the bill. So the critical question is, does an MBA still provide a good return on investment? “In such a diverse market, and with so many different people looking at MBAs, the only answer can be, it depends,” said Imperial College Business School’s Dean Francesco Veloso. “But often as people go through the ranks at a corporation or a start-up they often move into a management position and feel that their toolkit is not complete.”

The deans maintained that a crude return-on-investment calculation for the degree is not the whole motivation for doing an MBA. “People come to us for multiple reasons,” explained IE’s Martin Boehm. “But often these are driven by our fundamental values that we make clear in the admissions process. We were started by entrepreneurs, we have always been entrepreneurial and tried to push the boundaries and drive innovation in the education sector and beyond, and we attract a certain sort of candidate.”


Francisco Veloso, dean of Imperial College Business School in London

Meehan agreed that a successful candidate at IMD would have wider motivations than money. “People who come to us want to have an impact, they want to be players in business and society,” he said. “We are taking them for one year and giving them the confidence, the tools, the frameworks, the networks, the connections and they walk away willing to play. You leave IMD able to take on any challenge.”

Clearly, MBAs have changed in recent years, and one challenge has been the rise of MOOCs and digital disruption. Imperial, a university with an illustrious STEM reputation, has embraced this change. “Imperial launched an online MBA two-and-a-half years ago and in terms of numbers it is already our largest MBA,” said Francisco Veloso, adding that online courses can increase access and as many Africans as Europeans and North Americans have enrolled in theirs. Increasingly, he thinks, courses will blend digital with experiential learning. “If you are listening to a lecture, then it is best to do it online. If you are having a gaming experience with your colleagues, then clearly that is best done face-to-face,” he said.

Although all the deans agreed that MBAs are moving ever-further from a lecture theatre-based course to an experiential one, with overseas trips and immersive experiences increasingly important along with the use of technology. As digital natives become a core clientele for business schools, expect technology to play a bigger part in their education. “By using simulations, games and flipping classrooms we have been able to make education more efficient and enjoyable for our students,” said Martin Boehm of IE, which runs a highly-regarded online MBA. The old idea that MOOCs would kill business schools has proved far from accurate.