Does Business Need More Doctorates?

The best business leaders are self-taught geniuses, or so we’d like to believe. Puseletso Mompei wonders if the truth about good management is more prosaic.

According to the stories, most great business leaders are college dropouts and accidental geniuses. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all famously failed to finish their studies but went on to change the world. We all want to agree with the old aphorism: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Yet at the same time, the number of advanced qualifications for professional development is on the rise. As Associate Professor in People, Organisations and Society at the Grenoble École de Management, Michelle Mielly, puts it, “If a master’s is the new bachelor’s, is the doctorate the new master’s?”

Take the world of business administration. Despite plenty of writing about the death of the MBA in recent years, the number of Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) and related PhD programmes appearing around the world is growing. Are these aimed at academics, or do they offer to make candidates enticing to prospective employers?

According to Professor Renuka Vithal, DBA Programme Director at the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA), a DBA and PhD can open many different avenues for a graduate to pursue. “These include movement into management and leadership positions, especially at senior levels, in research and development entities of organisations,” says Vithal, “or in any area depending on the particular professional, practical and theoretical knowledge and skills acquired.”

Vithal explains that these candidates can undertake independent research in business and management for an organisation. “As a result, they can deal with complex problems using a range of intellectual, analytical and research tools in an organisation depending on the expertise developed through their study.”

The right fit

The ideal candidate to pursue a DBA is a master’s or MBA graduate who enjoyed the research elements of the MBA; or has a passion for researching some specific problem in their organisation, a particular sector or region; or wants to become an expert or specialist in a particular field.

One of the perceived downsides of pursuing such a qualification is that there are limited opportunities due to graduates being over-qualified.

However, Vithal believes that obtaining a doctoral degree increases one’s marketability internationally. “The doctorate they acquire enhances possibilities for successful appointment into senior management and leadership positions as competition for such positions intensifies.”

Knowing how to utilise these qualification holders is key, says Agnes Sibanda, CEO of placement agency GradMart. DBAs, she says, are very attractive to large corporates, major consulting firms and financial institutions. “They are also a great fit for governments,” she adds. “However, we would also like to see them adding value to the SMME space. That’s where the future is, and they certainly need expert support activating their innovations.”

Sibanda states that the rigour of doctorate-level work prepares graduates for leadership and problem solving within organisations, giving them a solution-orientated edge over their peers.

As the workplace is evolving, employers are increasingly looking for people with a dynamic perspective of work – those who are able to deliver solutions on business strategies as opposed to just “doing their jobs.”

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