What will you get out of an MBA? Skills firstly, including economics, finance, marketing, operations, management, and accounting. But MBA programmes are also designed to impart soft skills such as leadership, teamwork, ethics, and communication – all of which are critical for effective management.
In addition, the MBA offers access to a network of fellow students, alumni, faculty, and business and community leaders. This network can be very useful when beginning a job search, developing a career path, building business relationships in your current career, pursuing expertise outside your current field, or launching your own business. After all, entrepreneurs need access to capital, business partners, vendors, and clients.
Is now a good time?
In a recessionary environment, an MBA offers the opportunity to reassess career goals, assess strengths and values and learn new skills. By taking the time to invest in your own personal development, an MBA enables you to ride out the slump and return to the job market refreshed, refocused and retooled.
The current economic climate makes the MBA more valuable than ever, according to Shireen Chengadu, GIBS MBA Programme Director.
“People looking to upskill themselves find that the generalist MBA programme gives them in-depth exposure to a wide variety of disciplines, so whether you are seeking to move to a different career portfolio or perhaps start your own business, the MBA gives you the all-round experience you need to overcome the downturn and the skills you need to ride the upturn.”Chengadu notes that the MBA has always been a popular choice of study in South Africa.
“Most of our students’ study fees are covered by their employers, which indicates the ongoing popularity of the MBA in the workplace. Employers continue to recognise the importance of developing a leadership pipeline for the future.”
When to enrol for an MBA
In the US, young graduates proceed straight to business school. In South Africa, most business schools prefer their students to have some work experience. “To engage constructively on topics such as finance and management, some experience is required to ensure that the students actually get value out of the exercise,” says Chengadu.
“With some work experience, learning is optimised.” GIBS requires a minimum of five years’ work experience, with at least two at management level. GIBS’s full-time entrepreneurial MBA is however open to graduates who have worked for a year or two and are keen to get their own business off the ground.
The University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) MBA programme is also geared toward mature adults who have proven academic ability and business experience, says Tom Ryan, associate professor at the UCT GSB. “Students are selected on their capacity for personal and professional development.
Generally, they are over 25 years old, have a minimum of three years’ work experience, have completed are cognised tertiary degree and are fluent in English.”Wits Business School requires at least three years post-university experience, with applicants who have more experience standing a better chance of being selected.
Criteria for admission
MBA programmes worth their salt have rigorous admission criteria. At UCT GSB, candidates who don’t meet the tertiary degree requirement, but who are considered to have high potential based on other selection criteria, may be required to complete further assessments as determined by the school.
In addition, all applicants are required to write the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).“GSB uses anumber of other indicators of ability and motivation,” says Ryan. “These include essays about life experience, goals, attitudes and values; evaluations from referees; and details of job, educational and extramural activities. All applicants are interviewed either by the MBA Director, members of the faculty or alumni.”
“We consider applicants who hold an undergraduate degree, have four years’ work experience and achieve a satisfactory result on their GMAT,” says Zimasa Koyana, manager, academic programme, at WBS. “We do also consider a small number of exceptional individuals who do not have degrees.”
The GIBS admission process includes a test that measures learning potential, numerical and verbal skills, and critical reasoning, as well as a GMAT. Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree. “In addition, applicants have to write essays on a number of management and leadership topics; we look at these to assess writing skills, as well as the ability to develop and sustain an argument.” says Chengadu GIBS also runs an annual 60 Second Challenge which requires candidates to post a video of themselves on YouTube to convince viewers in 60 seconds why they are the most deserving candidate for a scholarship to study the full-time entrepreneurship MBA.
What is the key content of the MBA?
The WBS MBA has attendance courses which include business simulation, group dynamics, personal leadership and social responsibility; core courses include accounting and finance, economics for business, human resource management, marketing management, operations management, ethics, sustainability and governance.
In a similar vein, the GIBS generalist MBA exposes students to all the disciplines of business as well as several compulsory electives such as sustainability, business ethics, and leadership.
GIBS’s entrepreneurship MBA places additional focus on entrepreneurial development, looking at elements such as business finance – as opposed to corporate finance. “Once students have completed the course, they have all the tools they need to start business,”says Chengadu.
“It’s not only about the formal curriculum, but also about aspects such as networks, mentors, venture capitalists, angel investors, small business units at banks, and exposure to a range of successful entrepreneurs. GIBS’s generalist MBA programme is offered over two years. Because the pressure is intense, students learn to handle stress and perform at a high level. “You cannot learn about pressure without being exposed to it.”
WBS has been ranked for a number of years by the Professional Management Review as the leading business school in Africa and had its MBA degree ranked number one in the Financial Mail for the sixth consecutive year. “Lecturers on the programme are known for their outstanding teaching abilities, business and research experience,” says Koyana. “But the student mix is just as important as the syllabus. Our students benefit not only from the school‘s outstanding local and international lecturers but also from the wealth of experience and viewpoints brought to the classroom.”
WBS takes an interactive approach to management education, the goal being to empower people to handle business challenges both locally and internationally. “The case study teaching methodology creates the space for students to exercise analytical and decision-making skills and at the same time encourages students to respect differing opinions, challenge their own thinking and question conventional wisdom.”
The GIBS MBA includes a global elective which is a compulsory ten-day programme that gives students a choice of travelling to India, China, South America, and the East or West Coast of the US, providing them with the opportunity to benchmark their skills at a global level.WBS has a student exchange programmewith business schools throughout the world.
“One of the electives offered on the WBS MBA is an international study tour,” Koyana adds. “The visits expose students to leading companies in the countries visited, and develop an appreciation of their economies. UCT GSB aims to be a leader in management development and applied research in emerging markets.
“We consider this emerging market distinctiveness as a real strength which the school is well placed to develop further,” says Ryan. “We have one of the most internationally diverse MBAs in the country. The importance of this for ensuring our students attain an MBA that is globally relevant and recognised cannot be underestimated.”
UCT GSB students can apply to spend a semester at an international university – the UCT GSB has exchange programme links with 27 international business schools.“The exchange allows students the opportunity to study and live in a different environment and to gain a fresh perspective on their development,”says Ryan.