What is more important in an MBA, the education one receives or the networking one gets?
In the field of entrepreneurship, the top ranking MBA school is a relatively unknown school called Babson (http://mba.babson.edu/info/rankings.aspx ). Their professors wrote many books on the subject, and it is clear that it outranks places like Harvard Business School in entrepreneurship.
On the other hand, some of the main reasons for getting an MBA are networking and improving the CV. HBS looks better on the CV, and the alumni network there is amazing.
Should one get an MBA before starting a business? If so, should it be from an ivy league school, or Babson?
In my case, I am about to finish a BA in business administration, which included a years worth of courses at the Wharton business school as a part of a student exchange program, so I do have some of the eduction that a person with a degree in engineering or geography would not have, but I wanted to keep the question more general so that it would benefit more of the people on this website.
You already have a business education. Why waste 2 years of your time studying accounting, finance, marketing,... when what you really wanna do is start your own business? I say you should start your business immediately and skip the MBA.
I would say that both the education and networking components of an MBA are important. A good degree is designed to give you the ability to develop your career to its fullest potential, at an accelerated pace. A good MBA should help you in getting most of the two components.
But saying all that, it depends on what YOU can get from an MBA which can help your business and that should drive your reason for taking an MBA before you start your business or while you are in your business.
Education in my eyes would have two parts to it :
Hard Skills - the "hard skills" of economics, finance, marketing, operations, management, and accounting are the backbone of running any successful business
Soft Skills - The "soft skills " of leadership, teamwork, ethics, and communication that are so critical for effective management.
Networking in an MBA programme effectively would mean you do it at different levels
A network of MBA students, alumni, faculty, and business and community leaders.
This network can be very useful for building business relationships. For example, entrepreneurs need access to capital, business partners, vendors, and clients. Businesses need access to funding and strategic management in order to position themselves to be relevant in the marketplace.
The other question you had was more related to "Branding".The particular school and type of MBA program you attend also have brand associations that can help open doors in businesses based on the school's reputation.
Do not underestimate the value of going to a top business school. The value you get from business school is NOT in the courses you take (though from personal experience I can say that taking a course from a professor at the Harvard Business School level can be a life-changing experience). The real, long-lasting value comes from the network you build while you are there, and the network of alumni you become a part of when you graduate.
You can probably see the advantage of avoiding 3 layers of management and calling a fellow alum that runs "X" division of a potential client for your company.
What about when you search for a mentor? Search for older alumni and ask them. They will hesitate less, you come from the same university and they know that you have a certain level of potential, and so they know their time will probably not be wasted on you, so you do get that initial lunch meeting with them.
What about recruiting board members for your startup? Same thing. Well-connected alumni have access to people of much higher level/standing. As you know, success in business depends sometimes on luck, being in the right place at the right time. Alumni networks improve your luck :-)
So I will disagree with Neil. Yes, start a business if you want to start a business. But also do things that will improve your chances. If business school is a fit for you because you like that stuff, and in a business that's what you would like to do (as opposed to, say, the technology side of things), then go for it. It will pay off handsomely over your lifetime.
Now, having studied business admin as an undergraduate will certainly works against you in applying to a top school like HBS. You need to be well-prepared to show what you bring to the table given the narrow experience that they will assume you have. If you wanted to go for an MBA, then you have studied anything other than business. But that's another topic altogether...
If you want to start a business, then start a business. Don't go to business school. The skills they teach you might be moderately useful, but learning about them in a classroom is expensive and slow. Running a business is something best learned by doing, not by listening.
Once you start running your business you'll have a much better idea of what theory you're lacking. That means that you'll be able to target your learning much better, and will have some real-life application to hook your learning onto.
In any case, you've already got a BA in business administration which should be plenty theory. Way more than most entrepreneurs have.
Anup said most of what I was thinking as I read the question.
Perhaps I can be of some help if you'd like to take this offline, since I actually applied, chose, attended, and graduated from Babson College for the express purpose of becoming an entrepreneur.
Having a background in Sociology (undergrad) and marketing, I felt that I did not have enough of the hard skills necessary to start or run a business. After obtaining my MBA from Babson, I can honestly say that my hard skills improved tremendously - but my soft skills benefited even more.
One note: NEVER do a part-time, executive, Fast Track, or evening MBA program if you have less than 10 years of work experience. You're cheating yourself out of a major component of the experience, which is the day-to-day interactions with your fellow students.
To answer your questions directly...
Question #1 : What is more important in an MBA, the education one receives or the networking one gets?
Answer : In an MBA program, the networking is more important than the curriculum, since you can only cram in so much knowledge from formal education in a given time period. Nobody gets a degree and says "Great! Now I know enough to be successful!" Everyone successful is a student for life.
Question #2 : Should one get an MBA before starting a business? If so, should it be from an ivy league school, or Babson?
Answer : If you plan to start your own business, an MBA is a painfully slow way to learn. If you aspire to be a brand manager at P & G, then I would strongly recommend going for an MBA. Starting your own company really does require much more knowledge than is taught at even the best schools. In addition, many/most business schools focus on producing good "managers" which is vastly different than producing successful "entrepreneurs." It's possible that Babson is an exception to this rule, but I would not be shocked if a large part of the curriculum is still dedicated to traditional "management" (it is an MBA after all).
On Building a Network : Regarding the value of getting hooked into a valuable network (like HBS), I've most often found that those with good networks didn't acquire them from attending a specific institution. They did amazing work, stayed in touch, really cared about the relationships and put significant effort into helping those that they knew. Thus, they created a significant network (I'm talking thousands of contacts). I'm sure being hooked into the HBS network can help, but it's not the only way. Also, if you don't make the investment in your network, even going to HBS won't provide the opportunities and value that a network has the potential to provide.
Your Personal Choice : Since you already have some business education, and know that you want to start your own company, I would strongly recommend just jumping in and doing it. There is no class or degree that is specific enough to starting your specific business... thus, simply get started and persist. I strongly concur with Neil that you will learn and be successful MUCH faster that way.
If you go to into any MBA program and do not learn anything, it's your fault. I don't think either one will "train" you any better than the other. Unfortunately, how the institution and those who graduate from it are perceived seems to carry more weight than the knowledge obtained.
You have been in business school for approx. 3-4 years; how many contacts have you made? Do you see yourself as a strong networker who is going to take advantage of the connections you are going to be exposed to at either school? They don't happen automatically.
As you can tell, you've posted this question on a site for startups where having an MBA is not as important as it is in the corporate world. Are you in a position to be part of a startup or are you unsure? Some people may benefit from an MBA program if they are not ready.
I'm not sure if it's correct to say that earning a MBA in babson is better education with worse network. Doesn't babson hold all kinds of conferences with Harvard and MIT students as well? if you're good with networking, going to babson and making connections with all the HBS students is possible, right? anyone want to comment on this? i'm sure if it's true.
I think the answer really depends on what type of startup you want to try for.
If you are doing a B2B startup, for example, then networking may be important, with people at larger companies, so Harvard would be a better choice.
If you are doing a B2B focusing on smaller businesses, then you may be interacting with either other startups, or recent startups, so Babson would be a better choice.
But, if your goal is to start a business in some other area that is aimed more at consumers, then you need to see where the graduates may end up, and see whether that will be helpful to you.
As to the education you get, the problem with theory is that you may think you know more than you do, and it may be hard to be adaptive to a very malleable environment, since you have so much education that keeps you rooted to what has happened.
I look at books like "The Age of Heretics", and you can see that when MBAs see an innovative company, that is a threat to their model, and destroyed.
You may want to start with just starting a business, and give it a year or two to see what happens, then, as was mentioned, since you will be able to point to experience that goes beyond your education, it may be easier to get into a business school, if you decide you need that, and you will have a better idea which university would be better for your needs.
I have an M.S. Engineering Management, so I had many classes with those working toward an MBA, but, since I don't have one, perhaps it will allow you to be more adaptive than I expect, but, one difficulty with studying case studies is that you see what has worked, or didn't work, and you just take those ideas and try to transplant them, which is often a disaster.