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INTERVIEW With "The Business Times" (Singapore)

Full Interview by Lynn Lee with ART's Managing Director on "Choosing the Right MBA Programme"

Atlantic Research Technologies, L.L.C. (ART),, is a global executive search firm, recruiting in the industrial, high tech and service sectors, for senior- and middle-management positions in general management, sales and marketing, finance, supply chain, manufacturing, IT, and human resources.

Question 1) Do all employers look for postgraduate qualifications? What is the most preferred qualification? 

Answer: "Corporations typically call us in to help them identify people who are already in the upper management or middle management ranks. When recruiting these candidates, most companies, large and small, Singaporean and international, usually look first and foremost at the candidate's employment experience, and at his or her achievements and management style. A person with a truly outstanding employment record can get a great senior management job without an MBA or other advanced degrees, but sometimes companies might decide that they only will interview candidates with MBA's or, if they are looking at candidates with similar achievements and abilities, they might give an edge to the one with the MBA. For manufacturing, operations or supply chain jobs, an engineering degree coupled with an MBA sometimes is more favorably viewed for management jobs than master's degrees in technical fields. In IT, engineering and R&D, technical master's and doctorate degrees are highly regarded, but, in some companies, technical people with MBA's are often given top opportunities for management, even over Ph.D.'s."

Question 2) Do candidates who have an MBA degree stand a better chance of being hired?

Answer: "Candidates with MBA's almost never suffer by having an MBA, but it doesn't guarantee that it will get one the job. When interviewing for a job that requires an MBA, it might be interesting for the candidate to ask the employer why they think the MBA is important for the job. Their answer might then serve as a springboard for the candidate to feed back evidence of how indeed she or he has developed these favored attributes through business school training.  It might give some useful insight into the management style of the company. Some companies might just see the MBA as a trophy, while other companies might have very specific beliefs about the value of b-school case studies, finance training, management theory, etc. and their relevance to the job to be done.

"Throughout the world, our firm particularly prides itself on identifying local, as opposed to expatriate, senior and middle managers. Many of our worldwide clients - Asian, American, European, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African - often regard the candidate with an MBA as a person with a more "modern" or "American-style" business outlook, and since this type of business model is currently in favor, in Asia, Europe or other regions, a management candidate having an MBA  might be offered as evidence of one's commitment to a more "aggressive" or "world class" management style. In countries where paternalistic, old fashioned or hierarchical business management styles have dominated, an MBA can be valuable not only as a personal window on a different way to do business, but it might be of tremendous value in convincing top employers to consider one seriously for substantial management responsibilities.

"There are some industries and job titles in which not having an MBA degree will likely keep one from reaching the highest ranks. In many large multinationals and in most high tech startups, it just seems that very few CFO's do not have MBA's. And it is very rare to see a VP of Sales and Marketing at a large multinational without an MBA. For the very top corporate positions at many North American companies it can be considered a red mark against a candidate if he or she does not have an MBA. The same also was true in the Internet industry, where dotcom executives having top MBA's became a tremendous cliché. The sad irony here is that the Dotcom Bubble is a great example where the MBA was used as a trophy to lure investor confidence and money, while, at the same time, the lessons from business school in creating sound business models seemed to be ignored in favor of pure greed. Nowadays the surviving internet companies are scrutinizing management candidates far more closely, and they are more interested in people whose ideas might bring long lasting stockholder value, rather than a "fast buck." They are much more open now to people without MBA's, because in that industry, a whole lot of very well educated people showed that degrees in themselves cannot replace solid business experience and logical judgment."

Question 3) Does it matter where you received your MBA or the duration of your course? Do employers tend to prefer those who have MBA's from prestigious institutions?

Answer: "Too much depends upon specifics about the hiring manager's own background and it might be difficult to know how one's MBA is going to be viewed by a hiring manager or by the various decision makers at a company. We have seen all sorts of scenarios. You might believe that, for example, employers having top US MBA's themselves might absolutely want to see candidates only with MBA's from those schools. By the "one hires in one's image" rule, this might be so, but we have also seen a lot of these managers look more to the personality or work experience of the candidate than the "brand" of MBA they possess. Perhaps coming from these "top" schools themselves, they know first hand that not every one of their classmates was particularly smart, practical, or the kind of person that they would want to work with. Then there is the type of hiring manager who is just plain jealous of the person with the MBA from the prestigious school and he or she cannot see beyond his or her own prejudice in evaluating the pluses and minuses of the individual. 

"Right at this moment, we are presenting a candidate to run a key marketing group for a multi-billion dollar American corporation. She graduated from a leading Asian university and then went on to a top US business school for her MBA. But that is not why they are interested in her. It is rather that she has many years' of achievements in their industry and that she could be an immediate contributor. The excellent overview that her business school training provided her perhaps helped shape the way that she evaluated certain business situations and how she responded to opportunities or problems that came up in business, but her success in business is really because of her mind and innate management ability and exposures at the companies where she worked.

"Our recommendation to people interested in pursuing advanced studies is simple: study what you do well in and do the best you can, alongside the best students and professors possible. In our experience, the people who really do the best in their fields and who are given top managerial jobs, regardless of what schools they attended, are those who most enjoy their work. Their enthusiasm and creativity spurs them toward greatness and naturally makes them leaders. If you are a really good engineer or computer scientist and love improving your technical knowledge, go for a technical graduate degree, and if you are naturally inclined toward management, your talents will be recognized at the right company. If you are in business and people are telling you that the path to management is only with an MBA, don't listen to them, particularly if you hate statistics, accounting or management theory. An MBA alone does not guarantee or teach anyone to be a good manager. The companies that we represent on six continents like people with active minds and they usually have programs to encourage people to pursue higher studies and training, to better their managerial and technical knowledge base, but also to keep these great people happy at the company."


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