The non-finance stuff

There has been a discussion in the Financial Times recently on the theme that business schools ignore business. A professor at London Business School, Freek Vermeulen, argued that most of what is taught at business schools is not based on research and that is because so much of the research is not directed at the problems people in business care about. A letter in today’s FT argues that business schools also fail to teach writing, interviewing and other important practical skills.

With respect, we do try on the MFin to teach these things, under the broad heading of “business effectiveness”. When doing market research among financial recruiters ahead of designing the MFin, I found unanimous agreement that some non-finance content in the course was very desirable. We therefore have the following.

1) Group projects which allow – well, force – students to learn about their own personality and working style and how it fits with others.

2) Tuition and practice in presenting and report writing.

3) Interview training and coaching.

4) Management practice sessions (copied from the MBA) where students discuss and learn about the human side of business and the obstacles to getting things done even when everybody is smart and well informed.

We don’t have the time to do all of this very thoroughly. I think the main value is that people with, shall we say personal challenges, have a chance to identify them and work on them. I have met plenty of people in finance who were very clever, knew a lot but were going nowhere because either they didn’t know how to get on with people or they just annoyed everyone else. There are some jobs where you can pretty solitary so it doesn’t matter what other people think but most finance roles require a degree of human relationship.

At interview, if we reckon somebody is seriously deficient in the human skills department then we would not offer them a place, since they can’t overcome such obstacles in a one year course. The business effectiveness strand of the course therefore depends on students having some sort of reasonable starting point and a willingness to learn and try to do better. I must admit that some people don’t learn as much as they could, partly because they’re too busy with the pure finance part and neglect the value of these other skills. It’s a shame to see them potentially waste their full potential as a result but ultimately we can only offer resources, we can’t force people to make full use of them.

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