Updated “MS vs MBA”

My 28 May post “MS or MBA” created quite a lot of interesting and valuable discussion over on LINKED-IN. The question: “Would an advanced technical degree be more or less valuable than an MBA to a young professional interested in a marketing / business career in the manufacturing sector?”
Here are some key themes and interesting excerpts:

AN ADVANCED DEGREE IS VALUABLE (Not surprising, since it seems most responders have at least one!), BUT….
“[E]xperience is worth the most in this market…. [U]nless you can get into a top B school … it really isn’t worth it. B school is all about the networking and Alumni network.”

FOR A BUSINESS / MARKETING CAREER, BREADTH of KNOWLEDGE TRUMPS DEPTH
“My MBA has broadened my career opportunities and earning potential. The rigor learned in my engineering training has definitely translated well to the business world.”
“With 2 technical degrees the technical advancement path may be enhanced, while the business community may not be convinced the person has business chops; with a BS and MBA, the business community will probably be more accepting.”
“The issue is really the difficulty in crossing the technical / business barrier [especially] in the large multinationals.”
“To understand the business best, start in a technical role, then shift to the business. It is very difficult to do the reverse.”
“Those who are technically trained can learn business management issues … Someone who has a business background cannot easily learn the chemstry/engineering/technology in a similar manner.”

WHATEVER THE DEGREE, ATTITUDE, APTITUDE and EXPERIENCE COUNT
“In all cases, creativity, attitude, team building, ethic and results amount for far more than advanced degree specifics.”
“I have both – MBA from Rutgers BS and MS in Physics. I would say that nothing can jumpstart your career, these are just tools.”
“With a technical undergrad degree, the advanced degree [MS, MBA] is ultimately less important than the would-be marketer’s curiosity, openness to new ideas and new approaches to business, and sensitivity to the motivations and intentions of key players in the marketplace.”

Some Linked-In Groups I’ve found especially useful: MARKETING INTELLIGENCE PROFESSIONALS, MARKET RESEARCH BULLETIN, and MANAGEMENT CONSULTING JOBS.

Here’s text of all the comments.

from MARKETING INTELLIGENCE PROFESSIONALS
In my limited experience I’d go for an MBA, but more than anything it seems experience is worth the most in this market. Because marketing is often not a direct revenue generator, it has the most to prove with often the least amount of resources. Hopefully your reader has weighed 2 years of experience and income vs. 2 years of school and expense.

Also, unless you can get into a top B school, I hear it really isn’t worth it unless you need to really build your business knowledge base. B school is all about the networking and Alumni network. Again this is not from personal experience
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When I was considering the right graduate program for myself back in 1994, I looked at traditional MBA programs like Kellogg at Northwestern and hadn’t really considered an MS degree. However, I then learned about Northwestern’s MS graduate program Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). This MS program was the right decision for me, as it was much more aligned with my personal customer-insight driven, strategic marketing background and career goals. In addition to gaining the core MBA-like foundation core courses such as finance and statistics, all of my remaining integrated marketing-related courses and consulting project work always included the gathering of market and customer data as the precursor to anything else we ever did. I was very satisfied with my decision then and still today. I only have my own experience to base my comment on, but I would think that you can’t just generalize that an MBA is always better than an MS, or vice versa.

Instead, I think you need to evaluate the specific school and MBA or MS program to make the right decision for your own unique career and situation.

MARKET RESEARCH BULLETIN
While this may not be entirely relevant to someone with an engineering focus I can speak from the perspective of someone who has been in the market research business for 21 years and has both a Masters Degree (in Experimental Psychology) and a MBA (Marketing, Quantitative emphasis). I have found that while the MBA provided a general foundation for understanding the business world the technical skills I acquired in my Expeimental Psych Masters program are used on a daily basis as a researcher. The psychology degree provided a wealth of knowledge in experimental design, statistics (parametric and non-parametric), quasi-experimental designs, etc. Pehaps the most valuable aspect that the focus was on human cognitive processing. This allowed for a very easy transition to applying statistical and experimental methods to consumers once I entered the MR field.
When I have hired MR analysts I tend to favor those with a Masters level social science background as they understand that the basic unit of analysis is the consumer. They also, for those with Masters-level training, tend to have pretty good statistical and methodological training.

I would endorse having both degrees, if possible, but would lean more towards the MS degree for the greatest value in a market research role. This would be true for either a B2C or B2B role.
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I also have spent over 20 years in marketing research, and my undergraduate degree was in business. When I decided to return to school after many years away from the classroom, I felt I needed to have an MBA to be as competitive in the marketplace in terms of education as I was competitive in terms of years of work experience in the research industry. While I was finishing my MBA, I decided to continue my studies and complete an MS in Marketing. I believed that the MS with the marketing specialization would be a nice complement to the more general management MBA. What I have found is that I regularly utilize what I learned during my MS experience in my everyday work. I think the MS is a better alternative for support for marketing research.
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MS is more operation specific (MR/other research methodologies) and a general MBA is more holistic in nature. MS is best suited for candidates with little or no work experience where as a general MBA is most effective after atleast 5 years of managerial work experience.

from MANAGEMENT CONSULTING JOBS
I have both – MBA from Rutgers BS and MS in Physics. I would say that nothing can jumpstart your career, these are just tools. So which one depends on your preferences and your goal.
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I think it really depends on what you want to do with the degree and where you see your career heading. I added 2 MS degrees and a PhD to my engineering career before taking a U-Turn and pursuing an MBA. I would say that my MBA has broadened my career opportunities and earning potential. The rigor learned in my engineering training has definitely translated well to the business world. My PhD in engineering actually seems to be more valued in the business world than when I was a practicing engineer.

from CHEMICAL INDUSTRIES NETWORKING FORUM
I got the MS, and then a marketing diploma, and am not sure that the full MBA would not have been better. However the MSc also opened doors, I would reccommend the MS, and then add business classes into your MS program- but have many friends who have done very well going B – MBA and rapidly rising in business based on the MBA -sp it really depends on whether you want to be a technical manager or a business manager, for the first I would do the MSc for the second the MBA
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There is no wrong answer to this one. A Ch.E professor told me that the technical degrees were more valued, but his was of course his leaning. My observation is that, at least for the chemical industry, the issue is really the difficulty in crossing the technical / business barrier in the large multinationals. However, this is organization specific. The view that always made sense to me: To understand the business best, start in a technical role, then shift to the business. It is very difficult to do the reverse.

One added point, with 2 technical degrees the technical advancement path may be enhanced while the business community may not be convinced the person has business chops; with a BS and MBA, the technical community may not value the MBA but the business community will probably be more accepting.

Bottom line: to end up more easily in a business role, improve your business CV, and to advance tecnically concentrate on technical CV builders.

In all cases, creativity, attitude, team building, ethic and results amount for far more than advanced degree specifics.
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It has always been my firm belief that those who are technically trained can readily learn business management issues – either on their own or through changing roles in an organization. But someone who has a business background cannot easily learn the chemstry/engineering/technology in a similar manner.

Today, it seems that having an understanding of technical issues is becoming more valued, particularly at the higher management levels. Leading players in the industry seem to be more often than not selecting people with at least some technical background to fill key executive level positions.

My recommendation is definitely to get the scientific degree and add business experience as appropriate – whether through additional courses or simply through pushing for varying roles in the workplace.
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I have to agree with both Robert and Steven, espcially the part about the difficulty of crossing the technical / business frontier. Partly, I think that is the result of the organizational invisibility of most of the tech staff, and partly the bias of MBA educated management.

My experience and intuition suggest that, with a technical undergrad degree, the advanced degree is ultimately less important than the would-be marketer’s curiosity, openness to new ideas and new approaches to business, and sensitivity to the motivations and intentions of key players in the marketplace.

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2 Responses to “Updated “MS vs MBA””

  1. Polprav says:

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  2. Bob Brothers says:

    Thanks, Polprav, for your interest. Yes, please feel free to quote and link to my blog

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