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To B-school or Not to B-school?

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The professorial view comes from Timothy Faley, Ph.D., managing director of the University of Michigan's Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies (part of the university's Ross School of Business) and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship.

The student view comes from a 2010 graduate of USC's Marshall School of Business who works in the venture capital sector (and asked not to be identified by name).

On core curriculum
Professor: There are six distinct bundles of skills that make up entrepreneurship: identifying opportunities, framing them into a business construct, assessing feasibility, operationalizing, resourcing and managing growth. It's not that the core courses are bad. It's not like finance is not important. But you need to know how to do finance when you don't have a 10-year history--how to do it from a blank page. It's not like marketing is not important. But you also need to know how to do marketing when you have no budget.

Student: They bombard you with core classes during the first term--accounting, statistics, economics, strategy, leadership, management, finance--it's all over the place, so it's basically cramming. I don't know if that kind of model is the most effective.

On teaching management skills
Professor: You can talk about the frameworks of management, about group dynamics and about different personality types and what they bring to the table. But the reason top schools always require three to five years of experience before coming back to get your MBA is that the experience of having observed it and lived it makes a huge contribution to the whole learning process.

Student: Management lectures were all about trying to create some sort of framework, i.e., three skills of a general manager: setting the agenda, enabling others, networking. But then they would say, "You can't teach leadership and management--it must be learned."

On analysis vs. hands-on training
Professor: We teach frameworks and understanding, but you have to live it. In the last quarter of the first year, every student spends six weeks on a real corporate project with a team of their classmates. It could be entrepreneurial, it could be a startup company out of an international incubator or it could be at IBM. But they're working on something real and they're working in teams. They have to figure out how to pull this all together in six weeks.

Student: Read a Harvard Business School case, study, analyze, then overanalyze some more--this is what MBA-ers call "analysis paralysis." This is a significant issue with many MBA programs: They teach theory, but could use some help with practical scenarios. Even when classes require developing actual business plans, one term or one semester is not enough time to learn all the details of running a business.

On ethics
Professor: When you're an entrepreneur, at least at the beginning, all you have is your skill set and your integrity. We talk to students a lot about ethics and make sure they understand how that impacts their career. When you're a lone entrepreneur, that's the pillar you lean on. It's not necessarily a stand-alone course for us--it comes up all the time.

Student: Ethics should not be taken lightly, especially in light of the Bernie Madoff scandals of the world. However, most of this stuff is common sense. A bad person will commit crimes--whether or not they have an MBA degree.

On whether an MBA guarantees a job
Professor: Long-term students will be sorely disappointed if they take that attitude. It doesn't matter if it's business school or relationships outside of school--if you say, "I just want to leverage it to get a job," then five years from now you're going to be pretty sad. You may be working in a job and may be making a lot of money, but you're not going to be happy.

Student: People stop caring after a while and just go through the motions, then end up focusing on getting a job and reliving their undergrad years. I would still pursue my MBA knowing what I know now. The people that I met and the networks that I have established because of my MBA made it worth it. --As told to Carolyn Horwitz

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