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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

David Lloyd-Jones
It's a straightforward American attempt to bring China down to Western standards. Now if they can just figger out a way to export the Republican Party they can make sure China stays a Third World country forever.

Let's ask ourselves who were the people responsible for the financial crises and who were the people responsible that our investments and savings becoming worth nothing over night.
Weren't most of the responsible people graduates from these "top" business schools and these "best" universities of the world. Are these institutions truly worth their money ?
Well, its hard to cast doubt on the claim that graduates from top business schools tend to earn comfortable salaries - most wind up in investment banking or consulting, and these industries pay very good salaries. That being said whether we see this as a good thing is a different matter.
All said, business schools do add some value - in branding the graduate and helping the graduate network for better paying jobs. And business schools try to recruit people who already have a solid foundation / experiences going for them. Case studies / book learning are activities we can pursue w/o a business school (and aren't that useful)... and talking in business school speak actually does make people think you're an idiot - and the more intelligent graduates get this pretty early on.
mega ditto Mr. Van Der Kamp,
the mega successful business leaders don't ever graduated from "top" business schools. just some anecdotal evidence below;
1. Jack Welch (GE Corp). MS, Phd. Univ. of Illinois
2. Lee Ka-Shing. no school beyond 16. school of hard knocks
3. Sam Walton (Walmart). BA. Univ of Missouri
4. Ray Croc. (McD) high school drop out. no college.
5. Walt Disney. night courses Chicago Art Institute. no college.
6. Henry Ford. no college. apprentice machinist at 15. school of hard knocks.
7. Rex Tillerson. CEO, Exxon (world's largest corp. by revenues). B.Sc Univ. of Texas
8. Ren Zhengfei. B Sc Chongquing Univ.
9. Oprah Winfrey. BA Tennessee State Univ.
10. Amadeo Peter Giannini (*founder Bank of America). no school since 13. school of hard knocks.
incidentally, most top corporations of the world are not headed by leaders armed with "top" business school diplomas.
Do cultivate your imagination a little and see that you are effectively making the same point as van der Grumpy: a Business School (or BS, as you say) hardly passes a cost-benefit analysis for the bequest of useful land. Squabble amongst yourselves whether housing or schools should come first but I don't think it's a fair fight myself.
I can’t really make a good judgment if using ‘case studies’ would be the key to business successful. I never attended one. But for many years I have doubts that the program really is effective in using historical examples applying in the ever evolutionary or even revolutionary what business is going through. The students may still have to pass their midterm and final to get their MBA degree, they, for most of them spending time and substantial amount on tuition but more importantly is to get a foot in the door of employment in reputable companies upon graduation. You will see, when these students get to be at their management level, they will go for the EMBA. The business schools become an exclusive club for the movers and shakers, a place to know one or become one. The ultimate success I think still lies in the ability in making good judgment especially in circumstance that never has happened before – no case studies would help. In US, there are many universities are land-grand universities of which their campus land is given free by government. Helpful and decent thing to do. One need not to get a MBA in plumbing in US because plumbers are amount the highest pay tradesman there.
Anyone that writes "ha ha" in their comments to try to convey a point...well...I'll just leave it at that.




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