This man believes the MBA works...

"There's quite a bit of criticism around, but the MBA is a very good qualification," insists Professor Anthony Hopwood, dean of the Said Business School, Oxford University.

The most blistering attacks on the MBA have come from Canadian management studies professor Henry Mintzberg who argues that all MBA graduates ought to have the skull and crossbones stamped on their foreheads.

MBAs are dangerous, Mintzberg claims, because students are taught management theory before they have enough real-life management experience.

While Mintzberg's criticisms are aimed primarily aimed at US business schools which tend to take younger students with less business experience than British schools, Mintzberg's brother-in-arms, Jeffrey Pfeffer - a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business - makes the more general claim.

Pfeffer argues that an MBA is useless simply because it does nothing to enhance a person's chances of business success. Hopwood claims that Pfeffer's research - which involves comparing the success of executives with and without MBAs - is so fundamentally flawed that it might make a good case study for an MBA course.

Hopwood argues that the MBA provides students with three crucial things.

"First, the MBA provides content and knowledge," says Hopwood. "In the old days in the City what mattered was who you knew rather than what you knew. Now both matter. There is a knowledge base in modern management that everyone is expected to have."

The second MBA benefit is that the qualification gives graduates a position in the managerial marketplace. "It's an equaliser," says Hopwood. "If someone is born and bred in North Dakota and doesn't comes from a rich family, that person is generally going to go to the University of North Dakota for their first degree. However, the person can then move onto a major business school for an MBA."

Hopwood thinks Pfeffer misses this "equaliser" point. Hopwood's third MBA advantage is that it offers students a powerful business network.

However, Hopwood gives a sobering qualification of the MBA's benefits. While all MBA courses provide knowledge and content, only the best provide a good position in the managerial marketplace and a strong business network.

So the MBA is a powerful business qualification, but not just any old MBA.

On the issue of whether business schools can teach entrepreneurship, Hopwood agrees it probably cannot be taught. "But it is possible to create an environment conducive to entrepreneurship," he argues, insisting that Said is doing just that. "We are well networked with Silicon Valley and there are many successful Oxford-based entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurs also need to know about business."

The connection between entrepreneurial spirit and business knowledge is demonstrated by a recent offer from a Google executive to show Said students how to put together a pitch to venture capitalists.

The fact is that the MBA is a great aid to business mobility, argues Hopwood, whether that means movement between companies, countries or business roles.

Simon Woodroffe, Founder Of Yo! Sushi, left school at 16

...and this man says that theories are no substitute for nous

For the sake of debate, entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe recently made a passionately uncompromising case at the Oxford Union in favour of the motion that management education is not worth a bean.

Woodroffe's true position is a touch less strident - an MBA, he concedes, is not absolutely worthless but it certainly does not guarantee business success, especially in entrepreneurial ventures.

"Some of my most successful entrepreneurial friends have employed MBAs," says Woodroffe mischievously. "And that's the point. It's not the person with the MBA who is running the business.

"MBAs think that if they do what business school teaches in terms of analysis, then they will be successful but it's just not true. Business is not entirely logical. It requires a plan but things don't go according to plan. I subscribe to the Alan Sugar view that business is about making things happen, about energy, drive and enthusiasm - not about analysis and theory."

Woodroffe believes MBA courses cannot help but produce over-cautious people. "The MBA focuses on risk and how to avoid it," he says. "Business schools therefore turn out people who are risk-averse.

"Yet starting a business requires some kind of obsession or desperation and taking a chance. If you go to university, then on to corporate life, it's unlikely you will ever start a business because you would have to risk all you already have."

It's fear that powers Woodroffe, who founded Yo! Sushi eight years ago. "It's not about making lots of money, so much as the fear of not making money that gets me up at 4am some mornings and makes me work late," he says.

Woodroffe's other criticism of business schools is the deadening effect they might have on natural business instincts and their tendency to induce "paralysis by analysis".

Woodroffe looks to his musical hero Bob Dylan for guidance on this issue. "Dylan is the Shakespeare of his times," he argues. "It has been a privilege to grow up in the era of one so wise." Dylan has - very cleverly, Woodroffe thinks - always refused to analyse how he writes songs. Too much analysis, Woodroffe says, stifles creativity whether it's in business or the arts.

Those wishing to learn about business, the Yo! Sushi man suggests, should study successful people, but they should concentrate on what those people do more than what they say. "Listen to what successful people say about what winning in business or music or art felt like," he says. It's how Woodroffe felt his way.

Woodroffe thinks MBAs appreciate the danger of analytic paralysis inherent in business courses. In the 200-strong, MBA-dominated audience at the Oxford Union, Woodroffe still secured 40 votes. His advice to those who want to be in business for themselves is do an MBA if you have the time, but don't lose your spirit.

He would hire an MBA for his business if the recruit retained his or her passion and instincts. "If the MBA is 20 per cent of the package, that can be a good mix," says Woodroffe.

The most beneficial MBA courses, Woodroffe concludes, are those that focus on self-development. "Business is not simply economics, but about you as a person," he says.

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