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Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 5:24am

Business schools and their 'case studies' are a waste of time

The government is cheating us by gifting a big site to the University of Chicago to build one


Jake van der Kamp is a native of the Netherlands, a Canadian citizen, and a longtime Hong Kong resident. He started as a South China Morning Post business reporter in 1978, soon made a career change to investment analyst and returned to the newspaper in 1998 as a financial columnist.

A top American business school said its self-financing programme would contribute a lot to Hong Kong despite the fact that the course's HK$1.2 million tuition fee has raised a few eyebrows.

SCMP, July 13


I don't have much time for business schools. They all operate on the false premise that advantage in commerce can be had by memorising morality tales called "case studies".

It's false because good judgment is something that you learn at your mother's knee and then refine through a lifetime of interacting with people and learning your business or profession.

Judgment is not something you pick up from notes on what the professor said the company did wrong.

The question to ask the professor is how much experience he or she has had of commerce at a real decision-making level. The invariable answer is none at all, except perhaps for a stint with a consultancy, which is just business school written in a different script. Talk of the blind leading the lame.

If there is a real advantage in commerce to be had from any formal course of studies, then it comes from studying accountancy. This is the language in which business doings are written.

Learn to read a set of accounts properly and it is like opening your eyes. The story becomes apparent in detail that words can never bring you.

Put this together with the apprenticeship of a junior position in whatever industry you find yourself and you are on your way to becoming someone of real insight and importance in that industry.

You won't get there, however, by the mediaeval notion to which business schools subscribe: that understanding can be had from studying the modern equivalent of the lives of the saints (as seen from an American perspective that ignores differing views).

All that this can give you is a perverted code of ethics, which recognises profit alone and scorns the joy that so many successful business people reckon is the true reward for having built something of social value. You'll quickly be spotted, too. Avarice is not actually a virtue in business dealings, especially not with people who really matter.

But I can understand why our bureaucrats decided to accommodate the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with the effective free grant of a 72,000 square foot site on Mount Davis.

They have given Singapore one in the eye. This business school has abandoned the lofty Lion City to move to Hong Kong. Ohhh, doesn't it feel good. Take that, you snobs!

You will note, however, that this project is not really self-financing, as it claims. We have given it a huge subsidy.

The public purse has forgone the billions of dollars that any developer would have paid to build housing on that land, while our bureaucrats proclaim to be desperate to address housing issues. No one seemed to think of housing in this case. How odd.

You will also have noted the HK$1.2 million tuition fee. Here is a course of studies for the rich, of the rich, by the rich. We may find some Hong Kong students attending it eventually. Then again, we may not. This will be a school for the pampered children of corrupt party officials in China.

But just as well, perhaps. As the chart shows, more than a quarter of our workforce is already composed of degree holders, double the ratio of only 15 years ago, and these graduates increasingly complain there are no good jobs around.

They are wrong. There are plenty of good jobs just begging for skilled tradesmen to fill them. Would there happen to be such a thing as the University of Chicago Toilet Booth School of Plumbing?



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This article is now closed to comments

I did do an MBA some years ago. The coursework can be helpful for some, particularly those that lacked some natural feel for business, like me. That said the degree is vastly oversold. It is probably a better idea to work a bit harder and more thoughtfully in one's job throughout the course of professional life than spend years in business school at the beginning of one's career. Tangible skills such as engineering, or accounting or foreign languages are likely to yield more benefit than soft courses such as management. For most people that feel they want to do business school, weekend or evening courses are probably a better bet than full time courses.
John Adams
Indeed well- said Jake.
Our company has several times sponsored our young managers to do EMBAs.
After the course finished i never saw a single manager improve in any way to become a better manager and thus indirectly repay the school fees we paid.
The one and only difference was that the managers started to ask for higher salaries "because they now had a an MBA" ( ! )
If I read all those 'comments' I wonder how many of the commentators have ever see a B school from the inside? Or just spent ten minutes studying their program.
Top tier business schools teach students so that they can lead and make a difference, not so that they can become good "middle management". You will not see the fruits of their education until they are in a position to truly take charge and lead, and you will not see the true benefits to your organization if you only have one MBA in a thousand person organization, there are always so many who fight change and innovation. If you work in an organization with no MBAs, then work in one with numerous MBAs, you will see a great difference in the ability to launch new strategies and projects. Not every MBA graduate is fitting to have the degreee, there are too many bottom feeders these days who don't seek leadership and innovation, just quick profits at any cost. These are not the majority of them, in my opinion. Yes, I have a top tier MBA and MS, and yes, I believe in the value of an MBA. Again, just a humble opinion.
People like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Nobel and Cecil Rhodes started with nothing or almost nothing. The difference between them and Lee Ka shing is that they gave most of their wealth back to society. They did not give everything to their rotten, useless, spoiled sons. Business schools are in it for the money, no question. Their so called "statistics" that their graduates earn twice or 3 times what non-graduates earn is self promotion, dubious at best and no doubt subject to the maxim "there are lies, damned lies and statistics (an expression probably first coined by Mark Twain). The schools with the best reputations charge a non-refundable US$300 just for applying and demand a lengthy essay in support. What a crock.
There is no substitute for basic nouse and experience which no business school can teach.
Although this business school appears to have conned the Government in to giving it 72,000 sq ft , it is very little compared to the dirty gifts handed out to the large local property developers over the decades.
OldPeak Toad
Obviously the very first sentence sums up what to think about Mr. van der Kamps's knowledge about B schools. If he wouldn't always get carried away with his populist BS, he could maybe write something some intelligent about why on earth Hong Kong gives land to an MBA school, while apparently there are not enough international schools for local and mainlander "expatriates"
I would doubt how talent n how willing the students are willing to work hard if their parents can afford this kind of fees. Without talent and hard work attitude, it will actually make a grad less competitive from a major school because he or she will think they are great, but they are not...
Can insights be taught? I guess only suckers who'd pay $1.2M for that would believe or hope so.
And if you are a marketing guy, would any ads or marketing materials from these schools managed to convince you?
is the writer a semite who is against asians having business education?
HK giving Singapore a black eye over a business school? An entity that Jake the almighty despises? Haha. The loser clearly has a warpd sense of humour. Clearly, he is neither of sound mind or a paragon of good judgement. Mummy appears to have failed in dispensing life lessons. To begin with, the lease on the school's premises in Singapore will end in 2015. The school sits on private property, not state land. The owner of the property had decided to put it up for sale. Chicago's decision to move comes as no surprise. And to think that HK went out of its way, forgoing billions just for this little satisfaction!! Wow!! Well, if it pleases Jake to think that HK had given Singapore a black eye, so be it. I wish Chicago all the best in inspiring the minds of North Asians, including wannabes like Jake. He can keep his Toilet Booth School of Plumbling and flush his brain down the loo.




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