From CIO to GM – MBA required?
There is no question that most IT specialists would benefit from an MBA, says Angelo Kehayas, General Manager (IT) of the Mines Pension Fund. No matter how knowledgeable or qualified, most of them are still viewed as “techies”, so an MBA gives them business credence, he believes.
“An MBA adds value on two levels. Clearly, it’s a very good education into broader business issues but it also gives you a threshold qualification in terms of your business peers.”
Kehayas was commenting on new evidence from Britain’s leading business school, Henley Management College, which points to the fact that more and more specialists, especially from the IT arena, are following the MBA route.
“It’s widely accepted that an MBA can be a fast-track to a senior job in general management. But specialists also benefit from the course, which gives them an overview of the business and the issues it faces,” says Michael Pitfield, of Henley.
“IT professionals face greater demands than ever. They are expected to work in international cross-functional groups, managing expensive and time-critical projects and dealing with senior managers from suppliers and within their own company.
“However, IT professionals are not often taken seriously at board level. Company boards regularly make significant strategic changes and only consult the IT department about implementing the change, or fail to take into account the technological implication of a new product development or office move. IT professionals receive far more technical training than those in other disciplines, but fall behind in management development,” says Pitfield.
Kehayas agrees, but stresses the importance of completing an MBA which is project-based and which has a major research project or dissertation component.
“My own experience with the Henley MBA, which is project-based, was that I carried out a large amount of research, which then had to be put on paper and set out in a formal, academic way. This made me improve not only my analytical skills but also my communication processes. The same applied, only more so, to the dissertation. It brings an awareness of the formal communication structure, which is something that most South Africans seem to lack,” says Kehayas.
“I have had personal experience with MBA graduates whose courses have not included either projects or a dissertation. I find that their analytical and presentation skills are lacking,” he notes.
Henley’s Pitfield says IT professionals who have completed a Henley MBA point out a range of significant benefits. “These include the ability to see the ‘wider picture’ of an organisation and to understand how an IT strategy fits in with the overall business strategy. Graduates also point to the advantages of learning straightforward management tools that simplify complicated tasks. MBA graduates can then move out of a functional department ‘silo’ into the area of strategic management.
Pitfield notes that specialist MBAs, for example in Project Management or Telecommunications, are also offered. “These may be of interest to those working in specific roles or industry sectors. Supervising project managers and ensuring that projects are completed in time and within budget are complex tasks, and ones in which many managers in IT receive little training.”
Kehayas cautions would-be MBA candidates against unrealistic expectations.
“An MBA does bring IT professionals up to speed and gives them credibility outside the technical realm. But it is not a magic bullet and I feel a lot of people expect too much from it. In that sense, the MBA course awakens the potential general manager within the IT specialist – it equips that person with the right tools and provides them with the opportunity – but the rest is up to them.”
Henley article Published by Angelo Kehayas August 2003