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Cream of the crop

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  • Contest honours outstanding MBA students around world
  • Winner took MBA to add management skills to medical research
  • Another finalist used qualification to aim for dream job
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By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- According to popular myth, people take MBAs for two connected reasons -- to advance their career and boost their salaries.

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Business of science: Bart Knols' MBA helped him work on combating mosquito-borne diseases.

However, as the finalists of a prestigious annual competition for MBA students show, the reality is far more complicated.

The MBA Student of the Year, run by London-based business school accreditation organization the Association of MBAs, rewards those who invest more than the usual in their pursuit of the qualification.

The newly-announced 2007 winner, for example, could hardly be further from the thrusting consultant-wannabe of legend.

Bart Knols, a Dutch national, spent a year aged 19 studying sleeping sickness in a Kenyan Maasai tribal community, deciding there and then to devote his life to finding ways to combat insect-borne diseases like malaria, which kill millions each year.

After completing a PhD in medical entomology, Knols became director of a major disease research station on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It was here that he realized that as well as being a top scientist, if he was to truly help people's lives he needed to become a good manager as well.

"Whilst on a very healthy career path as a biologist, it dawned on me that management skills were equally, if not more important, than biological knowledge," he said.

After moving to a new job in Vienna, Knols signed up for an MBA with the Open University, a highly-rated UK school which specializes in distance learning. Courses he took on creativity and innovation led Knols to pioneer a new method to control mosquitoes using a fungus, which is being trailed around Africa, funded by millions of dollars in research money.

"As a scientist I could do a lot, but now I can achieve change on a much larger scale and make a real difference," noted Knols, who now runs a consultancy firm that trains scientists in management skills.

Another finalist in the contest, Aimee Abbott Cocco, has used her MBA from Spain's Instituto de Empresa school to implement strategies for sustainable growth in her native country of Dominican Republic, where she works for a private bank.

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007

"Studying an MBA opened my mind to new things and helped me to see business in a different way," she said.

Another finalists showed how determination, allied to an MBA, can overcome different odds.

Benjamin Haan began an MBA at Monash University Graduate School of Business in Australia to chase his dream of moving from consulting to private equity -- something many recruiters told him would be impossible.

A determined Haan rearranged his MBA program to focus exclusively on electives in entrepreneurship and finance, cold called a series of senior players in the Australian private equity industry and won the honor of being the top academic performer on his MBA program.

He has now started work as a private equity associate with a Swiss-based group. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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