Small Companies: The MBA Road Not Taken

They may lack the prestige of big companies, but in many ways small companies and MBAs have much to offer one another

For many students and their schools, an MBA stands for Master of Business Administration during the program and then for McKinsey, Bain, and Accenture once the job search begins. So much is made of return on investment when the subject of MBAs is raised that it seems to be an undisputed truth that these programs naturally lead to positions with large, public companies.

In such a context, an MBA program that channels alumni toward small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will probably be seen as unsuccessful or lacking ambition. The same view is likely to be taken of students who choose to take the SME path.

Smaller companies are seldom the sort of household name employers usually linked to MBAs and are likely to evolve in sectors whose managers have to get their hands dirty. However, there is a case to be made for SMEs being the best possible fit for an MBA graduate.

A classic, high-quality MBA program is a general management curriculum designed to equip participants with all the skills needed to run a business. While the structure rests on specific subjects such as finance, strategy and leadership, the overall logic is to meld these blocks of knowledge together. In the vast majority of cases, MBA students shy away from too much specialization, preferring instead to focus on a well-rounded education.

Limited MBA Roles at Multinationals
Despite the courting of high-profile, multinational recruiters by MBA programs, their emphasis on preparing graduates for high-level management jobs does not always resonate with bigger employers. While a large company can offer a vast range of posts, these are often limited to specific functions that are particularly well-suited to junior MBA graduates. In this way, alumni become directors of marketing, purchasing, or perhaps human resources. Few within a multinational will start their post-MBA career in a general management position.

The same is not true within SMEs, where size alone makes a high-level position all-encompassing. That is not to say that MBA alumni cannot function in classic department-specific roles, but that SMEs provide opportunities to put all these skills and more together in one management role...


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