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Interview with Henry Mintzberg for CNN


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(CNN) -- Canadian Henry Mintzberg has been a pioneer in the study of managerial behavior. He has been very critical of contemporary management practices. CNN got a chance to interview this academic and business researcher.

CNN: What should be the goal of management education?

MINTZBERG: To create better managers who create better organizations who create a better world.

CNN: Can management be taught?

MINTZBERG: No you can enhance the characteristics or qualities of peoples who are managers you cannot create managers in the classroom. You can teach all sorts of things that improve the practice of management with people who are managers. What you cannot do is teach management to somebody who is not a manager, the way you cannot teach surgery to somebody whose not a surgeon.

CNN: You are very critical of MBAs?

What I have against MBAs is the assumption that you come out of a two year program probably never having been a manager -- at least for full-time younger people MBA programs -- and assume you are ready to manage. Not only do you assume it, but also the schools tell you that and this is dead wrong. The impression left of management in MBA programs is distorted. In fact the MBA programs are very effective at business training at giving people an understanding of business functions even creating enthusiasm for business. But they give a distorted impression of management precisely because the people studying for the younger programs are not managers. And MBAs are largely orientated towards analysis and analytical kinds of things but that is one kind of management but it is not a small part.

I describe management as arts, crafts and science. It is a practice that draws on arts, craft and science and there is a lot of craft -- meaning experience there is a certain amount of craft meaning insight, creativity and vision and there is the use of science, technique or analysis. But MBA programs are so weighted towards the analytical side that people come over as what I call calculating managers and I think they're causing problems everywhere.

CNN: When you did the Financial Times interview there many letters of complaint were these justified?

MINTZBERG: I should say in England, not Britain so much, you have the best MBA programs anywhere, and you have some that are very managerial, but these are not in the most prestigious schools in some cases. In the U.S. you have very little of that. So the programs are business programs, and with the exception of Bath and Lancaster there are some interesting things going on.

I describe the MBA in the book as a degree from 1908 with a 1950s strategy. Because the degree was created in 1908 and business schools have had no new degree since 1908 and the strategy was set up based on a couple of reports in the 1950s which made business schools respectable, more research, more theory more depth. All of which made them much stronger and much more respectable academically but it did not strengthen their managerial side, and to this day there is very little management in most MBA programs and what there is, is distorted.

Let me give you an example. The Harvard case study model is predicated on the fact that you read twenty pages the night before on a company you probably have never heard before. And the next day you go into class and you talk about it and Harvard claims this trains managers. Well the unfortunate thing is it probably does. It trained a lot of superficial management of people who think give me a twenty-page report I will give you a strategy. Its utterly distorting, there is no hands on experience in a Harvard case, there is no direct experience, no one has ever met the customer no one has ever been in the factories, nobody used the products, no body knows anything. And they are all talking about what the company is supposed to be doing because they spent a couple of hours the night before reading the case

CNN: So why do people recruit them then?

MINTZBERG: If an HR person hires a Harvard MBA, then that person is free. If it did not work out then well that person is from Harvard, Stanford or LBS or wherever else so why not, I think that is one reason, i.e. just buying the credential. I think another reason is that there are a lot of MBAs out there who are just hiring a lot of other MBAs.

There was a book published out of Harvard in 1990, somebody who had been at Harvard for over 35 years, a real insider kind of view of Harvard, and he had a list of Harvard best as of 1990 i.e. Harvard, the superstars, 19 CEOs of the U.S. companies, so we had over a decade to look at the performance of those people. Because Harvard prides itself on getting to the top, but no one ever talks about what it was like being there so we tracked the record of these 19 people, and of the 19, 11 had failed utterly and three were pretty questionable. So there were five out of 19 who looked like their records were clean. That was the record of Harvard's best as of 1990.

CNN: So MBAs need to be scrapped counterproductive?

MINTZBERG: I think the MBA would be fine if it was recognized for what it is, which is specialized training in the business functions and if everyone came out with a figurative stamp on their forehead -- a kind of skull and crossbones that said "not prepared to manage" it would be OK. And they have not been training in management and do not pretend this has much to do with management. What I propose is that you take the A off the MBA and a lot of British and French schools do that in effect, not literally, so you get an MBM in Marketing, or an MBR in Research and so on and so forth, in accounting or finance. So that people know they have been trained as specialists, and if people what to do management training let themselves prove themselves as managers. Let them get into managerial positions, let them prove their capability, and then let their companies send them. But keep them connected to their managerial jobs so you can do what I think is the most important thing, which is let them reflect on their own experience in the light of concepts, theories and so on.

CNN: How does the International Masters in practicing management differ to an MBA?

MINTZBERG: I think it differs greatly in almost every conceivable respect. First of all you do not get in yourself, ideally you are sent by your company in groups of several people so you can work together, you stay on the job, which is fairly common in the UK. Management education is less common in the U.S. Stay on the job so you can make the connection between the job and the training but I maintain the regular MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong way for the wrong reasons and so called executive MBA programs. I have never met an executive in one, train the right people in the wrong way for the wrong reasons because they take people who are experienced, many of whom are managers. But then they do with them exactly what they do on the regular MBAs, Give them all the cases, and all the theories, but they do not use their own experience. There programs that do that in England, but there are not many outside.

CNN: How much management theory should we care about?

MINTZBERG: You see its just like panning for gold, you have got to pan through a lot of junk before you find the nuggets and I think its the same with management theory. It would be nice to be able to say, this is the good stuff, so let us only deal with that. I am sure pharmaceutical managers would also like to say, this is the only key research so let us get rid of all the rest. The problem is no one knows how to distinguish one from another in advance. So we got to get rid of the junk along the way. Now we could get rid of a lot of the bad stuff. If we could do the Bill and Barbara test, they were two very articulate managers whom I had a chat with about leadership and very intelligent and I basically said academics should not have complete control over their funds and their publications. There should be an intelligent practitioner test that says run it past Bill and Barbara, intelligent practitioners, you know.


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