Executive Education: Basic Training

M.B.A. remains degree of choice for executives, entrepreneurs

On today’s ever-changing business battlefield, executives and entrepreneurs alike must be fully armed. There’s one weapon that has always been effective for corporate warriors: the M.B.A.

For more than 25 years, minorities especially have acquired master’s in business administration degrees to gain a competitive edge in sectors ranging from finance and marketing to media and technology. While M.B.A. holders are still on track to upper management, the degree no longer guarantees a move up the ranks.

“Indeed, the ’80s and ’90s provided for a financial windfall for people of color with M.B.A.s indicative of the alumni who made BE’s list of ‘The 75 Most Powerful Blacks on Wall Street’ [October 2006],” says Kenneth Roldan, CEO of New York-based Wesley, Brown & Bartle, a diversity management recruitment firm, and author of Minority Rules: Turn your Ethnicity Into a Competitive Edge (Collins; $22.95). “However, in today’s tough economic climate, simply having an M.B.A. or being a person of color with an M.B.A. does not have the cachet it [once] did. While the M.B.A. still remains a useful tool, corporate experience has more value.”

The M.B.A. has become more of a first step of a longer journey. Simply being credentialed by an institution is not enough to set you apart, although receiving the degree from a leading business school such as Harvard or the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School will almost always open doors. The value of the M.B.A. is in the instruction gained, especially in the arena of global business management.

B-schools also provide indispensable contacts. “You want to get a global top brand M.B.A. if you want the same transformative effect of the ’80s,” says Chioma Isiadinso, former member of Harvard Business School’s admissions board and author of The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets (Sourcebooks; $17.95). “[It] will give you access to a global network, and that’s really powerful.” About 1,800 universities and institutions in the U.S. and abroad receive GMAT scores from more than 100,000 applicants each year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. On the following pages, three B-school recruits discuss the application process and coursework at three top business programs. For those considering applying to an M.B.A. program, their comments may be enlightening.

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