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How much is that MBA worth?

It's a coveted prize, but relevant work experience, people skills are key also.

How much is that MBA worth?

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: LUIS MISTADES

LANDING a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is regarded as the academic gold standard for many people - employers included - no matter how costly it is to earn.

The Nanyang Business School at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has tackled that aspect by launching a new and shorter curriculum for its MBA, which costs $55,000.

It said leadership requirements have altered because of the rapid changes in the market, Asia's accelerated ascendance and heightened social conscience.

Associate Professor Chung Lai Hong, the associate dean (MBA), says the new course offers participants greater insights into pan-Asian business practices and management challenges.

"They will be taught through Asian business case studies generated by our Asian Business Case Centre," he said.

"They will also benefit from instruction and research on managing across Asia's diverse cultures by our faculty, several of whom are global experts in the area of cultural intelligence."

The managing partner of executive search firm Leadership Advisory, Mr Daniel Soh, believes that an MBA from the National University of Singapore or NTU, which have localised their curriculum to the Asia-Pacific context, is definitely more useful compared with one that teaches the topic of "management" in general.

Still, there continues to be debate over whether an MBA is necessary and if so, which is the right MBA for you. Many people continue to study for an MBA even if naysayers think it is a waste of time.

Mr Scott Burnett, managing director, South-east Asia, at professional services firm Towers Watson, says an MBA "can be a tremendous asset" as it gives employers the assurance that an individual comes with a good understanding of the complex challenges faced by today's global firms.

And top business schools have stringent entry criteria which ensure that only the brightest minds get in and graduate, he says.

Mr Lim Shyong Piau, 41 who completed his MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business this year, says the $180,000 he spent on it broadened his perspective of business and people management. It has also provided a robust conceptual framework for him to strategise and operate with at work.

"I have come to appreciate economics in a more holistic manner and realised that one can apply economic models and concepts to marketing, pricing, strategy and even politics and ethics," he says.

Most students, adds Mr Lim, who is managing director of Invesco Asset Management, choose to do an MBA to broaden their business and professional networks, enhance their credentials and track records, and learn from the best in academia and business.

But before you jump into an MBA programme, you might want to know that it's not a piece of paper that will automatically lay out the path to your dream job or higher pay.

Singapore-based investment guru Jim Rogers, who once taught MBA classes in the United States, had previously said that the image of MBAs is a myth, that they are a waste of time, money and energy.

One thing an MBA certainly does not guarantee is significant increased pay or an instant switch into a glamorous high-paying job.

"Many people go into an MBA hoping that once completed, they can move into something more lucrative like investment banking," says a finance industry executive who declined to be named.

"The reality is they will find themselves in no-man's land. They will be too inexperienced and too expensive due to their high expectations."

Relevant work experience is still crucial. And an MBA cannot replace good business acumen, pure grit or entrepreneurial instincts, experts say.

But what an MBA can do is to open doors. It is, for instance, often a preferred prerequisite where C-suite positions are concerned, according to Mr Soh.

How you fare after that will, of course, be up to you.

Mr Burnett says that in some industries like banking and finance, an MBA with a specialisation in finance can make a candidate parti-cularly attractive.

Consulting firms also value the analytical skills that MBA holders possess as these skill-sets allow them to assess their clients' business issues and develop viable solutions.

However, research shows that not all MBAs are created equal, adds Mr Burnett.

While some candidates just want an MBA, others will seek an instantly recognisable global brand name that they can brandish about anywhere in the world and to make it worth every cent.

Mr Burnett says: "An MBA can open doors, but employers are now looking for soft skills such as empathy, comfort with ambiguity, and an ability to lead and work in teams, with teams and around teams. After all, for the leaders of tomorrow, the future is about people, not projects."

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