Worth her weight

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The Lovely Lucinda has gone on a diet. I know this because in her usual organised fashion she has typed out her list of permitted foodstuffs and pinned it above her desk in our office.

She claims to have put on 10lbs since developing a boyfriend, and I have four specific theories as to why she has put on the weight. One: she is so happy that she is eating more. Two: now that she has secured a boyfriend, she has instinctively stopped trying to stay thin in order to obtain one. Three: the weight gain is unconnected to the boyfriend but is related to the fact that she gave up smoking at almost the same time as he arrived. Four: there is not enough physical activity in the relationship to burn off the calories.

LL must have concerns about the last of these, for alongside her meal plan she has also timetabled a weekly exercise regime. On Monday nights this includes meditation, though quite how meditation is going to burn calories, I do not know. LL told me that meditation is good for eliminating stress, but I had to inform her that as long as she worked for me it would remain highly unlikely that she would ever be able to eradicate it. Not a day goes by when LL doesn’t have to fish me out of some new calamity, diary clash, failure to remember key dates and so forth.

The latest episode was when I went to a business school to teach an MBA class and left my telephone behind. No matter, I thought, and sent LL an e-mail from my BlackBerry informing her that as I had no phone all contact would have to be by e-mail. Then I promptly left my BlackBerry in a cab.

This did not affect my class, who were closeted with me for two hours. They are an interesting bunch. MBA students are now far more plentiful than they were 15 years ago when I was one, but having paid handsomely for their course (in the case of my students, some ₤28,000) they are no less demanding than I was. And quite right too. I am hopeful that now top-up fees are being introduced at undergraduate level, undergraduates will be less tolerant of the highly variable standards of teaching in higher education. There is nothing like having to pay for something yourself to focus your mind on whether it is any good.

The question really, though, is whether an MBA is worth paying all that money for. As one student put it, her colleagues think it will be a Master’s degree in B****r All. There is some truth in this, in that the degree is not designed to teach any specific skill, other than how to be better at management.

Whether people with MBAs are better managers than people without is debatable. I have met plenty of good managers who do not have an MBA, or even an undergraduate degree. I found that 50 per cent of my own learning experience came from the other people in the class, rather than from the teachers, and the only useful practical skill I took away, and have used regularly ever since, was how to sack people.

If people expect to emerge from an MBA with a skill set that will instantly transform them into millionaires, then they are likely to be disappointed. An MBA is a general management qualification, a chance to look more widely than your own experience at how businesses are managed and at the management theories that have gained credence over the years. It is likely to improve your analytical skills, to make you a more rounded and better-read person, to considerably widen your knowledge base (mostly, as I said, from studying with people from other walks of life).

What is certain, though, is that with the proliferation of MBAs, where you studied is far more important than it used to be. And MBA graduates will have only themselves to blame if the value of their qualification goes down rather than up because their alma mater slips in the rankings. Graduate students, support your schools! If you want it to be a great brand on your CV, help to keep it one! Support it with your money, with your time, with your advocacy. Harvard Business School alumni understand this - everyone else, get with the programme, as they say over there.

LL does not have an MBA, but she does a very good job of managing me nonetheless. In order to manage my expectations, she has put her new regular engagement - a Friday lunchtime run - in the diary. I was thus surprised to find her still typing away 1.30pm last Friday.

What, I asked, had happened to the lunchtime run? She admitted that she and the boyfriend had imbibed rather excessive qualities of wine the night before, and so she didn’t feel up to it. Hmm. Alcohol. A fifth theory, perhaps, for the 10lbs.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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