Human resources experts are split on whether you need an MBA to be a successful manager, pointing out that while work experience is often more valuable, an MBA remains a good indicator of commitment to career development and self-improvement. Christa Luetzenkirchen, head of human resources in Asia-Pacific for multinational chemical company Clariant (China), said in her experience most candidates with MBAs were ambitious, willing to learn, to take a project further than its obvious conclusion and to look beyond common day-to-day tasks. An MBA, however, was not mandatory in the chemical industry where recruitment activities are more focused on scientists, engineers and sales staff. 'It depends very much on individual people, their skills, their attitudes, their willingness to learn, and their values. But those with MBAs do seem to bring particular skills to their work,' she said. 'It's the potential to think in a strategic way, to analyse things quickly and to look at the big picture, which from our point of view is the most important ability.' Ms Luetzenkirchen also noted the patience and motivation of those pursuing an executive MBA (EMBA) while working full time. 'Personally, I feel they are brave people. How do they manage family life and work plus an EMBA over one or two years? If they pass, the achievement is a clear signal about their future plans for the company and for themselves,' she said. With so many people enrolling to do MBAs and EMBAs over the past decade though, it may seem that the significance of this master's degree is becoming diluted. And it is certainly no guarantee of an executive job. Research by BusinessWeek magazine in 2006 found that less than one in three executives who held high-level positions in corporate America had an MBA. A more recent poll conducted by professors at Pace University in New York found that only 159 out of 488 top companies surveyed had CEOs in place with MBAs. So even though tough economic times are often regarded as an opportune moment to return to further education, enrolling in an MBA doesn't necessarily mean that the doors to management will automatically open. As Tom Mehrmann, chief executive of Ocean Park Hong Kong, noted: 'Education is important but it's not mandatory if there's relevant experience. If I had two candidates sitting in front of me, one with relevant experience but no degree and one with a degree and no experience, I would typically go with the individual with experience. 'That said, it comes down to an individual's attitude and all the things that make him or her unique,' he said. 'It's not simply the fact that they have a degree or experience.' While an employer might well seek the kind of general personality traits displayed by someone who has pursued an MBA - a person who is more driven, committed to personal development, a little more analytical, data-driven and ambitious - there is much to be applauded in those with experience, Mr Mehrmann said. 'People who have good emotional intelligence, or EQ, make good managers. Those who have that sensitivity, the ability to manage the personalities of the people that work with them, will usually be your best managers. 'I've found people who don't have degrees and people with degrees who have qualities like that. I probably look more at personality than I do degree when it comes to those issues. But [finding] an MBA student with good EQ and experience is [like hitting] the jackpot, because you've got the person with the analytical skills, the intuitive understanding and the ability to manage with empathy, and with the individual in mind as they're managing projects to task.' Bearing in mind the ambition that is often quoted as a trait evident in those pursuing an MBA, it is no surprise that employers often come up against diligent individuals who have worked hard on their personal development, earned their MBA, are yet to gain relevant work experience but make the assumption that because they have a degree they can manage. 'I'd probably be better off picking the person with relevant experience in those cases than taking the person with no work experience but with a degree,' Mr Mehrmann said. 'Often there is an inflated expectation on the part of the person with the MBA that they're an automatic shoo-in for management even if they don't have experience, and that's where I tend to opt in the other direction.' As one finance professional with an MBA commented: 'The knowledge that fresh MBA graduates have is not worth much, but what they have learned is a degree of confidence. They are outspoken in public, they have been trained to be good speakers, they are presentable and they have an added level of confidence in themselves. They blow water, but they know how to blow it nicely.'