Resilient MBA: 5 Advantages MBAs Have Sailing Into The Crisis

For Forbes, Lecturer Suzy Taherian shares the five hidden advantages MBAs have that make them more resilient and better able to succeed in this uncertain job market.

(Editor’s note: This article by Suzy Taherian first appeared on Forbes’ CFO Network on April 10, 2020. The video below features an interview with Taherian speaking in greater depth on the return on investment for new MBA graduates and the companies they join. )

Normally, spring is when MBA applicants decide on business school while graduating MBAs look at reaping the return on their investment and consider employment options.

The only difference this year will be they will be making these decisions in more uncertain times. The good news is that MBAs have five hidden advantages that make them more resilient and better able to succeed.

1)    Yoga flexibility

This cohort has more dynamic thinking and can flex and bend and pivot business models.

H. Rao Unnava, dean of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, where I teach, says business schools “can’t design a process that is rigid. Instead, we are designing processes that are changeable as the environment changes.”

MBAs learn flexibility with lean manufacturing systems, adaptability with technology, AI, dynamic pricing models, etc. One tool I use in class is a tornado diagram. We identify the key risks, quantify their impact and develop mitigation strategies. This builds a business model that recognizes risks and can adapt.

2)    I-intelligence

A Tornado-shaped chart for a hypothetical company which shows the change in expected company valuation, positive and negative, for various risks with the risks with highest impact at top.

With smartphones and mobile tech, most MBAs can work, shop, play and live anywhere. The shelter-in-place orders have cemented the virtual workplace. This new work style favors those who are tech savvy and can thrive online. Many MBAs are quite practiced and comfortable in this mode.

They have been taking classes online, working in teams virtually and connecting with friends on social media, and sharing information through various online tools for years. As this crisis widens the digital divide, MBAs are well-versed as technophiles. The careers that they aspire  are also virtually-resilient. Technology startups, management consulting, investment banking, venture capital, strategic marketing, supply chain optimization and other white-collar management roles adapt more easily to remote access.

3)    Stamped passports

MBA programs have been strengthening student’s global experience. Business schools have been pushing hard to attract international students who bring unique perspective and networks. These international students today can be the critical international supply chain or customer contact for tomorrow. MBA programs also encourage study abroad semester programs and international study trips to study and travel overseas. The curriculum is also more international with case studies from non-U.S. scenarios. After this crisis, a big priority will be to rebuild and diversify global supply chains and customer relationships. The crisis is fraying the global commerce and information fabric. It will need re-mending. Today’s MBAs are well prepared to jump in to repair and strengthen these tears. 

4)    Rubik’s thinking

In this crisis, we’re facing multidimensional issues such as balancing health risks with economic slowdown. Fortunately, this MBA cohort is from a socially conscious generation. They consider the impact on multiple constituents, such as shareholders and customers, but also the community, employees and the environment.

In class, I’ve noticed UC Davis MBA students challenging the simple solution of optimizing around one variable such as Net Present Value.

They’d want a more complex calculus to factor in reputational effects, employee morale, product quality, community viability and environmental sustainability.

5)    Battle scars

The average MBA is 27 and has five years of work experience. This is a far cry from a few decades ago where college graduates went directly to business school, with little if any work experience. Keep in mind that today’s average MBA was only 15 during the 2008 financial crisis.

To assure that MBAs do get the experience of working in real crisis, UC Davis GSM requires a team consulting project to develop solutions for real problems posed by client companies. Many top business schools have similar MBA consulting programs. What’s more, these companies often hire the MBAs at the end of the project.

MBAs today are a more resilient cohort. That’s a good return on investment for the new graduates and the companies they join.