Gravy Training: Inside the Real World of Business Schools

Gravy Training: Inside the Real World of Business Schools

by Stuart Crainer, Des Dearlove

"[Business schools] have lost their basic purpose....If you ask what are the best ideas in organizations over the last ten years, most didn't start with business schools. Most of the top ten business bestsellers didn't start with business faculty."—Gary HamelGary Hamel, the internationally acclaimed strategy guru and business school educator, shocked a group

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"[Business schools] have lost their basic purpose....If you ask what are the best ideas in organizations over the last ten years, most didn't start with business schools. Most of the top ten business bestsellers didn't start with business faculty."—Gary HamelGary Hamel, the internationally acclaimed strategy guru and business school educator, shocked a group of journalists and academics at the London Business School with that frank appraisal of the state of higher business education today. But his comment, damning as it was, only hints at the full intrigue of money, politics, and power that has compromised the integrity of far too many such schools. There's more to be told. Much more.In Gravy Training, two hard-hitting business writers present the controversial results of their own investigation into the world's most prestigious business schools. Are such elite centers of management education as Columbia, Stanford, and Wharton really crucibles of cutting-edge theory and expertise? Or are they merely cash cows for universities and faculty alike'There's no doubt that business schools are big business. Part of a multi-billion dollar global industry, they also exert a growing influence on public as well as corporate life. President Clinton plays golf with Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair had his Shadow Cabinet trained at Oxford's esteemed Templeton College. Be that as it may, the authors of Gravy Training believe that business schools have reached a crossroads and that their future is uncertain as they face intensifying competition from corporate education upstarts and start-ups. Crainer and Dearlove conducted extensive research and interviewedhundreds of administrators and faculty members to find out if business schools deliver on their promises and discern what their futures may hold. Their page-turning examination of the B-school phenomenon contains provocative stories and startling facts about the in

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"We graduate over 90,000 MBAs each year in the United States alone! This valuable book can help improve the overall quality of those MBAs, as well as the schools that teach them-if they heed the message."(Warren Bennis, author of Organizing Genius and Why Leader's Can't Lead)

"Crainer and Dearlove are two top writers, and one thing is certain: they know how to leave a reader breathless."(Tom Brown, president, Management General)

"Gravy Training is a chillingly accurate resume of the critical issues facing international business schools now and in the future. The authors are two of the most highly experienced and well-informed writers about management and they present their case in a fluent, accessible style."(Leo Murray, dean, School of Management, Cranfield University)

Library Journal
After more than a century, have business schools delivered on their original promise? That depends on your interpretation, say British business journalists Crainer and Dearlove. But whatever impact business schools have had, they conclude, it hasn't all been positive. Times have changed, and business schools haven't; they need to face up to the competition from consultants and the more than 1500 "corporate universities" in the United States alone. The authors' frequent put-downs of Harvard Business School and their glorification of INSEAD, the elite French business school, may suggest a Eurocentric bent. But they support their arguments with quotes from quite a few well-known North Americans in business education with serious critiques of the major schools, their teaching methods, and the competence of graduates. Greater emphasis on technology, better philosophical connections with the market they serve, and cooperative programs and projects are some of the approaches that they think can save MBA programs. Required reading for aspiring MBA students and corporate human resources managers; MBA administrators and faculty should read it but probably won't.--Susan DiMattia, "Library Hotline" & "Corporate Library Update" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
An examination of the state of both university and distance-learning business schools in the United States and Europe. The authors question whether the schools fulfill their promise of training a skilled and successful management population. They argue that often the schools are nothing more than profit making schemes that fail to understand the cutting edge in business theory. They offer advice on how business schools can reinvent themselves to become innovative centers of management learning. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Last spring, Harvard Business School students entered 50 business plans in the institution's annual business-plan-writing contest. The winner, who like many others concocted an outline for an Internet startup, walked away with a $20,000 prize. What's more remarkable is that by graduation, half of the plans submitted in the contest also came up winners: They'd been funded by venture-capital companies looking for the next big Net hit.

That's just one example of the e-commerce mania that has students going to

business school in the hopes they'll become Net stock-option millionaires. The same mania is motivating grad schools to follow

in the footsteps of Harvard, Stanford and Vanderbilt, and include e-commerce courses in their MBA curricula. Some schools have gone so far as to create entire subspecialties in the subject. With students forking over a small fortune for a diploma, and corporations eager to sink millions into endowments for e-commerce research, it's easy to see why.

E-commerce is only the latest fad to

hit B-schools – just as in the 1980s, MBA candidates boned up on corporate finance to land six-figure jobs on Wall Street. B-schools have a way of adapting to the

times, but are they good for anything more than churning out the latest generation of money grubbers?

That question is central to Gravy Training: Inside the Business of Business Schools. A better title might have been Debunking the B-school Myth. Business schools have succeeded in welding themselves to the country's financial culture, but Gravy Training authors Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove give them an F' for failing to advance the profession of management. The authors say MBA-led companies suffer because of it, due to the dehumanizing, reduce-everything-to-a-spreadsheet management style that future CEOs are taught in B-school.

According to Crainer and Dearlove, both long-time British financial journalists, the time is ripe for MBA programs to rethink how they operate and where they're headed. The executive-education market is booming, but nonuniversity-based training, such as Michael Milken's Knowledge Universe and Internet-based distance-learning programs, pose serious threats to the B-school management-education franchise. As the authors see it, schools that don't act on the threat are in serious danger of losing students, and clout.

It's been more than a century since the country's first graduate program of management began at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. From the start,

B-schools' stated intentions were to train tomorrow's captains of industry, legitimize management as a profession and conduct research. But as MBAs became more popular – first in the 1960s, then in the 1980s, and most recently in the Net-fueled 1990s – business schools lost sight of such lofty ambitions, assert the authors, and settled for pushing degrees the same way companies push products. By the late 1990s, schools in the United States and overseas were cranking out 100,000 MBAs a year, contributing to a $100 billion global executive-training industry.

Instead of creating effective leaders, the authors argue, B-schools have become diploma mills that produce managers who, driven by flow charts and fed on case-study curricula, have lost their ability to connect to the very people they're supposed to lead.

The authors are also critical of superstar professors who do little more than lend their names to the institutions that employ them. The fact that well-known academic John Kotter is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, and author of a Matsushita biography, might be purely coincidental, but it raises the issue of undue influence. If you had enough money, could you make it a condition of giving $20 million to a school that the professor write a book about you?' they ask.

Crainer and Dearlove also sound a cautionary note over the millions of dollars schools take in endowments each year

from individual and corporate donors – fund-raising that could damage institutions' abilities to carry out independent research.

Gravy Training was first published in England in 1996; it was revised for its American debut with additional examples from U.S. business schools and an updated acknowledgment. But the book hardly

suffers from its British roots; the B-school phenomenon started in the U.S. and

continues to be bigger here than in Europe or Asia.

Crainer and Dearlove meticulously back up their assertions with footnoted interviews of deans, professors and senior-level executives, as well as quotes from newspaper and magazine articles and speeches. While their writing sometimes lacks zing,

it's broken up with enough lists, charts and short asides to make the book an enjoyable and easy read.

The authors spend the better part of the 272-page book spelling out the fall of the business-school empire, but they offer a way out, as well. They envision three tiers of schools: a small number of elite schools at the top filling the traditional role of finishing school for the next generation of tycoons; a middle tier concentrating on specialty areas; and a large bottom level providing localized executive training.

They also encourage B-schools to embrace technology-based learning, including courses taught over the Net. For some institutions, they espouse the radical option of breaking away from their university parents and operating as for-profit ventures, allowing the schools to enter the consulting business – something they are barred from doing today as nonprofit organizations.

Gravy Training is recommended reading for anyone considering going to business school who wants an unflinching look at the worldwide executive-creation machine. And for those who've regretted not getting an MBA, a weekend with Gravy Training is all the therapy they'll ever need to get over it.

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Product Details

Publication date:
Jossey-Bass Business and Management Series
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.19(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.14(d)

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Meet the Author

DES DEARLOVE are UK-based journalists who have been covering the business scene for more than twenty years. They are founders of the media content, concepts, and consulting firm, Suntop Media. Crainer's work has appeared in the Financial Times, Across the Board, and Strategy & Business. He is the author of numerous books on business, including the Ultimate series and the Financial Times Handbook of Management. Dearlove writes regularly for the London Times, the American Management Review, and Human Resources. He is the author of a number of books on management best practices.

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