Page last updated at 12:18 Asia/Manila, Thursday, 05 October 2017 PH
In my more than a half century of teaching, I have been often asked by parents and students what is the best way to prepare academically for a business profession. My answer has been that there are several ways of skinning a cat. There are several routes to a successful career in business. As a product of the so-called LIA-COM program of De La Salle University (I was in the pioneer graduating batch in 1958), I have always emphasized that it is very advisable for those who want to reach the top of the business profession to have a solid liberal arts foundation. The reason is that those who become CEOs are usually those with sharp analytical minds, gifted in both oral and written expression, and possessing a keen understanding of how people behave because of their ability to relate one human discipline to another. Early in my years of teaching at De La Salle College then, I became quite unpopular with my accounting colleagues when I said that an exclusive focus on the study of accounting and related disciplines is a formula for narrow mindedness, a silo mentality, and the inability to rise to higher levels of management. The same thing can be said about focusing too much on other functional areas such as marketing, finance, production or personnel management. This is what I call “technicalitis” in business education.
In fact, this belief of mine was reinforced by my interacting with the MBA students at the Harvard Business School when I was pursuing my Ph.D. in Economics course at Harvard in the early 1960s. I realized that the exceptional ones who got admitted to this top business school in the world were generally those who did not take up specialized studies in business during their undergraduate years. They were usually graduates from courses in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, health sciences, humanities, social sciences, music and the arts and other fields which had nothing to do with business. My critique of accounting education in the 1950s and 1960s was confirmed further when I was asked by top management of SGV in the early 1970s to offer to their CPAs a management training program replete with philosophy, the arts, literature, the humanities and the social sciences. I can attest to the fact that many of those who underwent this program rose to the top of many corporations as CEOs and senior executives.
Upon my return to the Philippines, I was appointed the Head of the Economics Department of De La Salle College. At that time, De La Salle was arguably the top undergraduate school in business offering courses in accounting and business administration. To the extent permitted by the curriculum, I tried to make the various subjects in economics taught by my faculty a liberalizing force for the business specializations. I made sure that economics was taught, not in the overly quantitative manner that it was already being taught in universities abroad. I took advantage of the fact that economics can be taught in a multidisciplinary way if the students are to understand the causes of economic success or failure of any society. Economics has to be taught in conjunction with sociology, political science, anthropology, psychology as well as philosophy and theology. In brief, I was inspired more by the PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) approach of Cambridge and Oxford rather than that of Harvard, Chicago and Berkeley. Students who are thinking of majoring in economics but have a business career as the ultimate goal should make sure that the school they choose will teach economics in a more multidisciplinary or liberalizing manner. This approach is in a better position to train undergraduates in analytical thinking, effective communication, and an interdisciplinary mindset.
There is, of course, the wide field of entrepreneurship. Strictly speaking, a person with any college degree or even no college degree can start his own business as an entrepreneur. What he needs is a creative or innovative mind and the ability to take risk. It is well known that some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates were college drop outs. Their being able to start businesses that became multi-billion dollar successes was, however, a product of their growing up in a highly urbanized and industrialized culture from which they absorbed by osmosis the necessary knowledge to start a business. Although there are examples of rags to riches stories in a poor country like the Philippines, those who are successful in putting up a business are usually those with at least a high school, if not a college, education. From the many yuppies I have met in the last ten or so years who have been successful in start ups, especially in the IT, agribusiness, restaurant, hospitality or tourism, education and sports businesses, the overwhelming majority of them are at least college graduates from the most varied specializations. I have even met lawyers who have become entrepreneurs.
Because of my direct involvement in the establishment of the first undergraduate program that purports to produce young entrepreneurs through a specialized undergraduate program, let me describe the Entrepreneurial Management Program (EMP) of the University of Asia and the Pacific. Established in 1989, the program started with a handful of high school students (all males) who were not especially academically gifted (their grades were on the low side) but through personal interviews manifested certain qualities essential to entrepreneurship, i.e. intellectual curiosity, ability to take risks and as we say in Filipino “discarte.” From their first year in college, they were told that they would not be able to graduate after four or five years if they are not able to start a small business during their college years and which business must be making a profit by the year of graduation. During those four to five years, during which their academic deficiencies were remedied through specially designed classes, they were also assigned business mentors from among highly experienced people of business, to carry out their “new business venture.” A large number of graduates from this program have been able to grow their “new business ventures” to successful enterprises in agribusiness, tourism, restaurants, logistics, retailing, fashion, etc. Eventually the program was opened to female participants when there was a change in the focus of the curriculum. As expected, the female students, who usually mature much faster then their male counterparts during the adolescent years, have been outshining the men.
What about those who are determined to be in corporate life for most of their careers? How do they advance as quickly as possible up the corporate ladder. Whatever their undergraduate specializations, they should immediately seek employment after graduation in a corporate establishment, whether for profit or not. For those in a hurry to rise to middle management in a short period of time as possible, they should acquire work experience for two to four years and then apply at a top business school for an MBA here or abroad. Among the leading business schools in the Philippines are the Asian Institute of Management, the University of the Philippines School of Business, the De La Salle University School of Business, and the Ateneo Business School that all offer an MBA program. Traditionally, those who can afford to go abroad have targeted business schools in the United States for the MBA degree. The most popular (but expensive) ones are Harvard Business School, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia: Darden, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, MIT: Sloan, University of Michigan: Ross, UCLA: Anderson, and Northwestern: Kellogg. To get into the MBA programs of these schools, the applicants must show not only an outstanding academic record and meaningful work experiences but must score relatively high in the obligatory GMAT test (at least higher than a score of 600). (To be continued).