Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Business Education at Different Levels

           In a previous article, we surveyed the history of business education in the U.S., where it began, and its eventual migration to the European continent and then more recently to Asia.  Thanks to our very close ties with the United States, the Philippines was the Asian pioneer in business education.  During the American colonial period, trade schools for the preparation of bookkeepers, secretaries, and clerical staff for business organizations were established.  Most of these eventually were transformed into colleges or schools of business after the country got independence in 1946.  Today, after more than half of a century of constant experimentation and innovation in the design of business curricula, there is a plethora of business courses offered to the approximately 400,000 tertiary education students in the Philippines specializing in business-related studies.

          I have been a participant in business education for more than half a century, first as an undergraduate major in accounting and later as a professor teaching economics to business students and business executives.  I am offering some of my reflections on how to improve business education so as to prepare the appropriate human resources for business in the high-growth era that has begun during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III.  Business schools can play a major role in improving the quality of  the workforce for business, and especially  that of managerial manpower.

          We have to first distinguish business education in general and management education in particular.  Business education includes programs for the training of skilled personnel in accounting, sales and marketing, finance, personnel management and other services in the carrying out of a business.  It is much broader than management education which is oriented toward the provision of management skills at the supervisory, middle-management and top management levels of a business organization.  As I have discussed in previous articles, the introduction of the K + 12 curriculum should be an opportunity to streamline post-secondary education so that a good number of our high school graduates can be encouraged to take courses that would require only one or at most two years for them to acquire technical skills that will be in great demand in a rapidly growing agro-industrial economy.  Many of them should go to technical schools that train electro-mechanical workers, plumbers, electricians, butchers, etc.  Those interested in business-related services such as accounting, computing, sales and marketing, retailing, etc. should enroll in trade schools that offer courses that last at most for two years, usually ending with an Associate in Arts degree.  The last two years of senior high school would have imparted to these types of students the liberal arts training that would address their ability to engage in a life-time process of improving their qualifications through on-the-job training, short courses, private study (especially online) and other continuing education programs. 

          What about those who realistically aspire for higher management positions in their long-term career path?  They need not take a university course in business.  Depending on their innate talents and interests, they should be encouraged to take courses in the liberal arts, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, medicine, etc. From my personal experiences teaching in business programs, especially in the MBA program of one of the best schools in the world (IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain), I have come to the conclusion that the best undergraduate preparation for an MBA or an executive education program is a liberal arts course or courses steeped in the physical, social or health sciences.  Those who studied physics, engineering, music, medicine and other fields unrelated to business usually perform better in MBA programs than those who majored in accounting, finance, marketing,  or business administration in general.   I explain this by looking back at an actual in-house training program that I helped  organize for the accounting firm, SGV, about fifty years ago, at the request of then Managing Partner for Management Services Roberto Ongpin, who realized that the narrow specialization of most of the accountants employed by SGV was so bereft of the liberal arts, especially literature, mathematics and the social sciences, that they had very little prospect of advancing to higher management positions.  Together with professors from the University of the Philippines, we at the University of Asia and the Pacific offered the bright accountants a whole academic fare on Shakespeare, Dante, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Calculus and other liberalizing subjects that they missed in their undergraduate program.  I can attest that many of those who took this program became CEOs and senior executives of the leading Philippine corporations over the last fifty years.

          Once the K + 12 is in full implementation, colleges and universities in the Philippines should try to distinguish more between technical training for business and what is truly management education.  For the former, short courses of a year or two should be offered with a re-introduction of the Associate in Arts degree.  Graduates of these courses should be immediately employable in skills-oriented occupations in a business organization, such as bookkeeping, computing, sales, customer services, etc.   Through opportunities for life-long education such as on-the-job training, on-line courses, self-study, etc. these workers can still upgrade education for higher qualifications, even going back to school to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in later life.  The important thing is that they are able to immediately find a job after senior high school. 

          Those who are able to pursue a full-blown Bachelor's program and aspire to management positions in the future need not take a course in business administration or similar fields.  They should take up what correspond to their special talents and interest, whether they be engineering, the sciences, music, architecture, medicine, etc.  These non-business specializations have been demonstrated in many graduate schools of business like Harvard, Stanford, AIM, IESE, etc. as better preparation for the most demanding management education programs.  The MBA is usually   taken by this type of business students after four or more years of work experience either in one's specialization or in any functional field of business, such as marketing, finance or production.  Among the MBA students I taught at the IESE Business School, more than 80 percent did not have an undergraduate preparation in business.  There were musicians, artists, ship officers, architects, medical doctors.  At the risk of being repetitive, most undergraduate business courses do not develop analytical and communications skills, which are the most important for success in management.

          Should four-year business courses be abolished then?  Not necessarily.  I would highly recommend that universities study the experiences of the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo and De La Salle University in offering business-oriented courses that are sufficiently infused with the liberal arts so that they have produced some of the best managers and executives over the last fifty years.  I am referring to the Management Engineering program of the Ateneo, the LIA-COM program of DLSU and the five-year Accounting major program of the University of the Philippines.  These programs adeptly combine mathematics, the sciences and the arts with some introductory courses in business so that their graduates--who have to meet minimum standards of intelligence--are employed almost from the start of their career as management trainees.  We need many of these programs to supply the thousands of corporations that have management training programs in which multinational corporations like Procter and Gamble, Unilever, Shell, Caltex, etc. pioneered n the 1950s.  For example, some of those who were management trainees at Procter and Gamble in the 1950s and 1960s became captains of industry in the 1980s and 1990s. 

          For the many graduates of non-business courses (e.g. engineering, the sciences, medicine, etc) who eventually aspire for management positions, MBA programs of different duration, such as those offered by the Asian Institute of Management, and graduate business schools of the leading private and public universities, still can play an important role.  A full-time MBA (one year to eighteen months) is usually taken by those who have acquired four to five year of meaningful management work experience.  This means that the average age of those taking this type of MBA would be 27 to 30.  Then, as are being offered by the leading business schools in the U.S., Europe and Asia, there is now a proliferation of Executive MBA programs.  These are part-time programs for mid-level executives (heads of marketing, finance or production) that are delivered in the form of week-end modules or intensive one-week modules spread out over several months. The highest form of an executive education program is the Advanced Management Program for CEOs owners of small and medium-scale enterprises and senior executives en route to becoming CEOs.  Most of them have a curriculum patterned after the pioneer AMP of the Harvard Business School.  The Harvard AMP requires a two-month stay at the Boston campus of the Harvard Business School.  Others, like the newly launched AMP of the UA&P in cooperation with some IESE professors, break down the curriculum to four one-week modules spread out over six months and conducted in varying cities all over the world as a way of immersing the participants in varying business environments and cultures as well as maximizing networking opportunities (contact amp@uap.asia for detailed information).  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.