Financial TimesBusiness School Briefing: succession struggles and rebound year for MBAs

November 16, 20200

Welcome to Business School Briefing. We offer you insights from Andrew Hill and Jonathan Moules, and the pick of top stories being read in business schools. Edited by Wai Kwen Chan and Andrew Jack.


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Andrew Hill’s management challenge

Business leaders can influence when they depart more often than their political counterparts, as Donald Trump’s reluctance to concede the US presidential election to Joe Biden has illustrated. But even chief executives agonise over the timing and framing of their exit, as I’ve pointed out in my column this week, not to mention worrying about their successors.

For my management challenge this week, with the exception of Trump-to-Biden, pick any famous succession struggles from history or fiction, business or politics, and imagine the memo you would write to your successor. Keep it brief, please, and send it to

Last week I asked for tips on how to energise a network of colleagues working remotely. Ivan (who goes by the handle @ethicsofseeing on Twitter) sent a suitably concise response: “Sometimes a 2-minute call can get a lot done.”

In further reading, David Deacon, whose record in talent management includes stints at Credit Suisse, MasterCard and Capita, adds the missing fifth C — culture — to the four I mentioned in my column last week. On LinkedIn, he writes that it is essential to keep control of culture in these uncertain times: “Use managers as your force multipliers, make them the front line of preserving the culture. They matter now more than ever.”

Jonathan Moules’ business news

Thomas Carlyle branded economics the dismal science long before anyone thought of MBAs and business schools. There is certainly a lot to be dismal about now in business education with the coronavirus pandemic feeding economic turmoil this year. But are the academics teaching business being too pessimistic about the state of the market?

The global applications report from the Graduate Management Admission Council last week confirmed what I had already revealed in the pages of the Financial Times: namely that 2020 has been a rebound year for MBA applications. Next year is a concern, as UK school deans warned last week. The proportion of those offered places that declined to take them up this year – the yield – has risen significantly in 2020, GMAC noted.

However, there is also confidence among brand name schools, such as Harvard Business School, which this week said it expected to increase its MBA intake to a record number in 2021.

Schools are having to deal with student unhappiness about overseas study trip cancellations and the replacement of lecture hall teaching with Zoom calls. But many of those starting at business school this academic year have been happy just to be able to learn new skills and interact with their peers during lockdown.

poll among 752 MBA students between March and May this year by the Association of MBAs, an accreditation body, with its sister organisation the Business Graduates Association found that 84 per cent felt their experience matched or exceeded expectations. Moreover, 32 per cent said their course had provided very good value for money and 48 per cent said it had provided fairly good value for money. 

Of course, there is an issue of selection bias here, given that these are people that have already made the decision to attend business school. Wise leaders, including business school heads, should be concerned, not about the many that support them, but about the significant minority that are upset. However, they should also be aware that there is opportunity created by the travails of 2020, which should give them some cheer.

Data line

It turns out, the key reason why students choose to study for an executive EMBA is to develop their management skills and knowledge, say Leo Cremonezi and Sam Stephens. This is according to data from the FT’s EMBA ranking of 2020.

Key reasons for studying an EMBA

Top business school reads

Covid vaccine breakthrough fuels broad global equity rally S&P 500 closes up 1.2% after big shift from tech stocks into economically-sensitive sectors

Johnson tells Cummings to leave Downing St immediately Fears in Number 10 that PM’s former aide and Brexit architect will turn against him

US officials affirm vote ‘integrity’ as Republican resistance to Biden win cracks Trump allies suggest president-elect should be given access to intelligence briefings

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