Conversations with MBAs

The other night, I had a chance to speak (along with Rich Sternhell and Laura Rittenhouse) with a small, intimate group of about 20 students from Columbia’s Business School. They were a great group, and we all had a delightful time.

One impression stayed with me because it somewhat surprised me. I was struck at what I think was a general skepticism about the level of impact that they, as individuals, could have.

They seemed to feel that the world of business is dominated by systems, analyses, structures, institutions, and that the role of the individual is rather limited.

I do not think this is true, nor did my fellow-oldsters there that evening. So my question is:

a. Were the 3 of us just a trio of old-timers, dinosaurs from the days of white-out (dare I say mimeograph?), oblivious to the encroachment of powers well beyond individual control which have come to shape our business destinies?

or

b. Have these young people become disillusioned, depressed, and generally disinclined to believe in the role of the individual because our MBA programs have stopped teaching managers about managerial decision-making, replacing that with analyses of industry structures and mathematical risk models?

or

c. Is this just how it looks from the front end of a career as an MBA?

Me, no surprise, I’m with option b. But what do you think?

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