Mariana Zanetti is an MBA graduate of IE Business School in Spain and self-published author of The MBA Bubble, a guidebook for young professionals in which she argues pursuing an MBA is a waste of money and resources.
Ms Zanetti worked as a manager for Shell in Argentina before moving to Europe. She has since been a product manager for Leory Merlin, a DIY retail company and ResMed, a medical devices company. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, skiing and trekking in the French Alps.
1. Why did you choose to do you an MBA?
I was in my twenties, I was driven and I expected great things for my career and my personal life. My husband had been promoted to a position in Madrid. I was seduced by the international experience and I wanted to improve my chances of continuing my career in Europe. I think I took it for granted that an MBA was the best choice in my situation, as nobody seemed to say the opposite. I believe now that I didn’t really need an MBA. The learning experience at IE was awesome and I would recommend it to anyone whose needs are aligned with what an MBA has to offer. People going into management consulting or investment banking for example. But in my case, I already had a successful career and just wanted to insert myself into a new market. I met all my professional goals, but I could have met them in a much more cost-effective way by hiring a career consultancy service for a fraction of the cost.
2. Have you even been to any seminars that have helped you in your career?
The seminars I really appreciated the most were those organised by the companies I worked for. They were really useful as they were oriented to solve specific needs related to our industry or functions, such as negotiation, price setting, stress and time management, etc
3. Who is your ideal professor?
Olivier Roland, the French entrepreneur and blogger. A few years ago, my ideal professors were my bosses. Elena Fernandez, my boss at Leroy Merlin, taught me almost everything I know about how to make a real impact within an organisation.
4. Who are your business influences?
Seth Godin, the marketing guru and Margaret Heffernan, who has studied the success of women entrepreneurs’ businesses. I tend to admire people spreading new ideas that challenge common beliefs. I love TED talks.
5. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?
I would have a serious discussion about the ethics on which the whole business education industry is growing its business and continues to teach business. The crisis of 2008 showed that focusing on making profit without caring about the real value added can have disastrous consequences for society and for businesses. Are business schools really adding value to students or are they just making profit out of their growing tuition fees?
6. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when studying?
Not studying at all and getting the highest grade of my class. Some things are better understood with natural comprehension in class than they are by reading books or notes at home. Most often, hard work is required. But sometimes, it will pay you more just to trust your natural talents and be in “your element”, as Sir Ken Robinson states in his book, The Element.
7. What advice would you give to women in business education?
Not everybody will find value in a business degree. Top-ranked schools are great but that does not necessarily mean that they are good for everyone or that their cost is justified in every career situation, especially considering that enrolling on to an MBA programme is an irreversible decision. I would recommend that women think carefully about what they want for their lives and careers in the long run and dig deeper into the real need of an MBA for success. For some career paths, MBAs are great. For many others, they are just completely overrated and are not worth the investment in time and money.
For many young professionals, focusing on developing an interesting “real-world” experience would be much more rewarding. Everybody, and especially women, should be aware that many career paths can have a profound impact on their personal choices.
8. What is the worst job you have ever had?
At the very beginning of my career, I got a job in a company that had a very ‘macho’ culture and women’s work was not really recognised. That job was the best thing that happened to my career as I felt forced to move on. I found a much more challenging position in a leading company. With that change, I more than doubled my salary and I had one of the most stimulating professional challenges of my life. If I had been a man, I would probably have stayed in my comfortable average job for years.
9. What inspires you?
Successful people being honest about their failures. I believe that the truth about successful people is that they are just ordinary people who dared greatly and failed as many times as they needed to until they finally found their formula. I think that is the path to success and anyone can walk that path.
10. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would not pursue a full-time MBA at the same point in my career. I don’t think that the choice of the school has anything to do with this conclusion as IE programmes are really high quality. But as everybody at that time took for granted that pursuing an MBA was a great thing to do and nobody questioned the value of getting the degree at a top-ranked school, an enormous bubble has been built around these degrees. That is how bubbles are formed, by an accepted, widespread and rarely analysed opinion about the value of an asset.
Many labour market experts confirm that what is most valued in today’s business environment is real-world experience and a deep understanding of your industry. With a few exceptions, degrees are secondary for most career paths. I see no value in being away from the market one or two years to acquire general management skills that most people in their twenties will not be able to apply for years, especially considering today’s high tuition fees.