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McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
What the Best MBAs Know / Edition 1

What the Best MBAs Know / Edition 1

by Peter NavarroPeter Navarro
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Easy access to the essential knowledge and skills of a top-level M.B.A. program—without having to attend a lecture

What the Best MBAs Know provides professionals who don't have the coveted M.B.A. designation with the skills and knowledge taught in today's finest programs. Professors from Stanford, MIT, Northwestern, and other influential programs contribute detailed chapters on broad-scope topics such as strategy, functional areas including accounting, and key disciplines from managerial economics to decision analysis.

The resulting application-based book gives readers complete mastery over the most important concepts of an M.B.A. education, leveling the playing field between M.B.A. and non-M.B.A. professionals. Organized according to the subject matter of the core M.B.A. curriculum, this unique and valuable book features:

  • Fascinating boxes discussing real-world situations and applications
  • Companion website with interactive exercises, key links, and more
  • Focused review questions and exercises for each chapter and area


  • Charles P. Bonini, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
  • Leslie K. Breitner, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington
  • Richard J. Lutz, Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida
  • Steven L. McShane, Graduate School of Management at the University of Western Australia
  • Steven Nahmias, Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University
  • Stephen A. Ross, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Daniel F. Spulber, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071422758
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date: 02/24/2005
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Peter Navarro is a business professor at the Graduate School of Management, UC-Irvine. He is the author of the bestselling investor’s guide, If It’s Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks, marketed worldwide in several languages. His articles have appeared in publications ranging from BusinessWeek, Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, and the Sloan Management Review, to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. His media appearances include Bloomberg TV, CNN, CNBC, Marketplace, NPR, and all of the major news networks. His multimedia CD-ROM package The Power of Economics is distributed widely on college campuses. For more information, visit the author's website at

Read an Excerpt


How to Apply the Greatest Ideas Taught in the Best Business Schools


The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-142275-8



Who Should Read This Book?

Each year, from the ivy-covered halls of Harvard and Wharton and the sun-drenched campuses of Stanford and USC to the intellectual vineyards of France's INSEAD, the fabled London School of Business, and the teeming campus of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, more than 100,000 students graduate from full or part-time regular and executive MBA programs. As Table 1-1 indicates for a typical year, this is more than three times the number of law degrees, more than four times the number of engineering degrees, and more than seven times the number of medical degrees.

There is a very good reason why the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree is so popular. The big questions that are addressed, the key concepts that are taught, the skills that are honed, the tools that are developed, and indeed the wisdom that is conveyed in the core MBA curriculum provide business executives from all walks of life and in every layer of management with the most powerful arsenal of analytical weapons ever assembled to fight the corporate wars.

The purpose of this book is to attempt the near impossible: compress these questions, concepts, tools, skills, and wisdom into one of the most useful and eminently readable management books ever assembled.

Ultimately, you will be the judge as to whether the crack team of business school professors that I have assembled to write this book are up to the task. But my promise to you is this: we are going to give you our absolutely best effort in illustrating, in the most practical of terms, just how useful the core curriculum elements of the MBA degree can be in your everyday business life. As for who should read this book, we have at least four different audiences in mind.

First, you may be considering pursuing an MBA degree and may want to learn more about the degree. This book will show you how the typical MBA curriculum is organized along "bread and butter" functional areas such as accounting, finance, and marketing, "toolbox" topics such as managerial economics and decision modeling, leadership topics such as organizational behavior, and the broader strategic areas of macroeconomics and corporate strategy.

Secondly, you may have already applied and been accepted to an MBA degree program. Accordingly, you may want to get a leg up on your classroom competitors by familiarizing yourself with the subjects you will be studying as well as the style in which the material will be presented. In fact, this book absolutely excels at this task because of its "big picture" approach to the core curriculum and coursework.

Thirdly, you may be close to graduating or have already graduated from an MBA degree program. However, you may now realize that many of the concepts, tools, and skills that you acquired during your studies have begun to grow a bit fuzzy. This book can serve as both a capstone to your MBA experience as well as a handy little reference volume to keep near your desk.

Finally, you may already be a busy and seasoned business executive who has always wanted to go back and get your MBA degree but never had the time. You may have pressing family commitments. You may have too many responsibilities within your company to afford the time to go back to school. Or, no doubt in some cases, you simply do not want to incur what is typically a very hefty expense. If any of these particular shoes fit you, the good news here is that this book can serve as a very able substitute for the physical classroom. In this regard, the always down-to-earth and often entertaining conversational lecture style of each chapter will get you as close to being in an MBA classroom as you can get without actually sitting in a seat!

That said, I want to be lightning quick in pointing out that this book can never be a perfect substitute for the MBA experience. Indeed, there are at least two main benefits that every good business school serves up to its students. The first, of course, is the set of key concepts, tools, and skills that we hopefully will convey quite ably in this book. The second, however, is the invaluable set of networks that most students develop as part of their MBA experience. For many MBA graduates, these networks turn out, over time, to be almost as valuable as the knowledge embedded in the degree itself.

With that caveat, I now urge you to plunge into these pages with the greatest enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity that you can muster. Indeed, I hope you will be as excited about reading these pages as the absolutely top-notch professors within these pages have been motivated to bring you this book.


The Big Picture—An Overview of the MBA Curriculum

In both business and in life, I have always found it useful to first look very carefully at the forest before examining each of the individual trees. That is precisely the philosophy we are going to use in this book as we begin, in this chapter, with a big picture overview of the MBA core curriculum. Then, in succeeding chapters, and with the help of some of the top business professors from schools around the world, we will look much more closely at each of the courses in that curriculum.


Let us start, then, by looking very carefully at the list of core MBA courses in the conceptual framework in Table 2-1. The conceptual framework is one of the most common learning devices you will encounter in business school.

This particular conceptual framework provides an overview of the MBA core curriculum at the "Top 50" business schools in the United States. The data for this table was developed from an extensive analysis of the curricula of each of the Top 50 schools listed in Table 2-2.

Note that in Table 2-1, the left-hand column conceptually groups the courses offered in the typical MBA core curriculum into five separate—but highly interrelated—categories. These categories range from the "Strategic MBA" and "MBA Toolbox" to the "Functional MBA," "Organizational & Leadership MBA," and "Political & Regulatory MBA." Note further that in the right-hand column of the table, there is a percentage listed for each course. This is the percentage of the Top 50 schools that include the particular course in the core curriculum.

Now, there are two things that are quite interesting about these percentages. First, as you can see, there are only two courses that are taught at every single school so that the percentage is 100: Corporate Finance and Marketing. Secondly, you may find the coverage—or lack thereof—for some subjects to be quite surprising.

For example, in a post-Enron world that has sometimes seemed to be absolutely inundated with corporate scandals, well less than half of the Top 50 schools require a course on corporate ethics. Equally astonishing, in an increasingly global economy where movements in the business cycle, inflationary spikes, and currency movements can have a tremendous impact on business, fully one-third of the Top 50 schools do not require macroeconomics.

The broader point of these observations is that there is no "standard" MBA core curriculum taken from a "cookie cutter." Rather, there are material differences across schools. This means that if you have a particular interest in a set of subjects, you will want to look very carefully at what a given school chooses to emphasize in its core. That said, let us use our conceptual framework to take a little deeper look at each of the categories and courses.

The Strategic and Tactical MBA

The first category is that of the "Strategic and Tactical MBA." It includes what I like to call the two "grand chess master" courses: Management Strategy and the aforementioned Macroeconomics.

Management strategy teaches you both how and why to make the big decisions every corporation faces—from market entry and market positioning to product diversification and mergers and acquisitions. In a very complementary way, macroeconomics is all about the "when" or timing not just of these strategic decisions but of many of the business cycle-sensitive tactical and functional decisions of the organization as well—from production and inventory levels to the tone of the marketing messages.

Consider, for example, the executive team that can use macroeconomic forecasting to more accurately anticipate an approaching downturn in the business cycle. This team will begin to cut production and trim inventories, even as rivals are upping theirs. The team may also better be able to "right size" their company through more timely layoffs, even as their rivals continue to add workers at premium wages. Nor will such an executive team embark on an overaggressive capital expansion program at a time when the cash flow is soon likely to begin falling and borrowing costs are at their highest.

Note that in many business schools, the strategy and macroeconomics courses are taught at the back end of the curriculum in the second year as "capstones" to the rest of the curriculum. In some sense, that is certainly appropriate. On the other hand, in this book, I am going to introduce you to these two courses first. This is because, as I indicated earlier, I prefer that you always work from the forest to the trees—the big picture to all of the little ones.

The MBA Toolbox

The second category of core courses includes two that will fit neatly into your MBA "tool box": Quantitative Analysis and Managerial Economics. The hallmark of these integrative courses is that they provide a set of concepts, skills, and (yes) tools that you can apply and use across the traditional functional disciplines as well as the broader tactical and strategic decisions of the corporation.

For example, when you learn about quantitative analysis and decision modeling, you will see that its applications are ubiquitous across the corporation. Supply chain managers can use linear programming models to improve production and distribution efficiencies while marketing executives can use regression analysis to determine the level of expenditures on their next promotion.

Similarly, as you are introduced to various concepts in managerial economics such as marginal cost, price elasticities, and opportunity costs, you will quickly understand just how every manager across every strategic, tactical, and functional area may find such tools useful at one time or another.

The Functional MBA

The third category is that of the "Functional MBA." This category is, in fact, the long-time "bread and butter" of the traditional MBA curriculum. It includes those courses in functional disciplines ranging from the dynamic duo of Corporate Finance and Accounting to Operations Management and Marketing.

In these courses in the Functional MBA, you will learn how to find and manage the funds for your company's capital facilities and activities. You will learn how to produce, distribute, market, and sell your products and services. You will also learn how to count your revenues, costs, and profits properly—both for external and regulatory purposes when you learn about Financial Accounting and for internal decision-making purposes when you learn about Managerial Accounting.

The Organizational and Leadership MBA

As for the fourth category of courses, this includes the suite of courses that address questions of Organizational Behavior and Leadership and Human Resource Management. In this suite of courses, you will learn just why and how managing a successful business is very much a "team" sport. You will also see why even the best strategies that a company may pursue will ultimately crash and burn IF the structure of the organization is ill-designed to implement the strategy or the company has severe "people issues."

The Political and Regulatory MBA

The final category includes several courses that have very spotty coverage across the top schools. These courses have to do in one way or another with effectively managing within the broader business and regulatory environment in which all businesses must operate. They include courses that are alternatively labeled such as the Governmental and Legal Environment of Business, Ethics and Responsibility in Business, Business and Government, Business Law, and just simply, Ethics. With respect to these courses, you may find it interesting that even though the government can do your business far more good or damage than any ten competitors, these types of courses are most likely to be ignored by many business schools.

Because of their spotty coverage in the MBA core curricula of many business schools and because of space constraints in this book, regrettably, I am not going to include chapters on any of these courses in the Political MBA category. I do hope, however, that the Top 50 business school deans would at some point recognize the importance of these courses and then give them their due in the core curriculum.


Okay, let us stop and assess where we are in this chapter so far. We started by using one common business school device—the conceptual framework—to take a first cut at the MBA core curriculum. Using this framework, we sorted the various core courses in that curriculum into five basic categories: the Strategic & Tactical MBA, the MBA Toolbox, the Functional MBA, the Organizational & Leadership MBA, and the Political & Regulatory MBA.

Now, let us use another device that is equally common in business schools to take a second and slightly deeper cut at this core curriculum. This device is the all-hallowed and, in most business schools, the ever-ubiquitous case study.

In this particular case, what I am going to do (with your help) is create a purely fictional product and an equally fictional company. Our goal together will be to illustrate in a bit more detail how each of the courses in the MBA core curriculum can be applied in an everyday business context.

Starting Your Own Business From the Ground Up

Suppose, then, that you are a young Bill Gates with a hot piece of software or, better yet, a young Steve Jobs with an even hotter piece of hardware. By using this software or hardware, you and several business school buddies have come up with what you believe is the next "killer application" in the world of high technology. This "killer app," which you have already patented, is so astonishing that [YOU fill in this blank with your own imagination!!!].

Now, if you are going to develop this product properly, the first step you will want to take is to create a business plan. Such a plan will precisely define your business and identify its goals and include such financial accounting tools as a current and pro forma balance sheet, an income statement, and a cash flow analysis. The plan will also describe what service or product your business will provide, what needs in the marketplace it will fill, as well as who your potential customers are, how you will reach them, and why they will purchase it from you. Armed with such a business plan, you and your partners can then go about the business of trying to raise enough "venture capital" to get the project up and running.

Now, if your company is successful over time, you will constantly be raising additional funds to build new facilities, modernize old ones, and maybe even acquire some of your rivals to consolidate your position in the industry. All of this will take money and it will be your corporate finance team that will help you determine whether you will finance your growth by issuing new stock or new bonds, or drawing on retained earnings, or, most realistically, using some optimal combination of all three of the forms of capital financing.

Assuming all goes well with this fundraising phase of the business and that you have enough capital to get your venture off the ground, here are just some of the questions you will be asking your other teams of MBA-equipped experts that you necessarily will assemble to help run your company.

For starters, although your product seems like a sure winner, you may still want your management strategy team to examine the question as to whether or not you should even enter the market. Is there room in this market for another competitor? Perhaps not. Are there rivals out there who can bury you with their deep financial pockets, reputational capital, and established marketing and distribution chains? Perhaps so.

If you get the green light from your strategy team to enter the market, you will also want to know which part of the market you want to attack—for example, the high-end, high-quality, high-margin end versus the low-end, lower quality, tight-margin end. In consultation with your operations management team, managerial economists, and your marketing team, your strategy team will also want to consider whether the company should actually produce the product or outsource production and simply distribute it. And if your company is going to produce the product, just where should the facilities be located? Should you produce locally or perhaps in a state like Tennessee or Texas with a more business-friendly climate? Or should you seek an international location like India, Indonesia, or Malaysia where wages are cheap but political upheaval is more of a risk.

Excerpted from WHAT THE BEST MBAs KNOW by PETER NAVARRO. Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents





Chapter 1 Who Should Read This Book?          

Chapter 2 The Big Picture—An Overview of the MBA Curriculum          


Chapter 3 Management Strategy—Five Steps to Successful Strategic

Chapter 4 Macroeconomics and the Well-Timed Business Strategy          


Chapter 5 Strategic Marketing—Delivering Customer Value          

Chapter 6 Operations and Supply Chain Management—Getting the Stuff Out
the Door          

Chapter 7 Financial Accounting—"Doing the Numbers" for Investors,
Regulators and Other External Users          

Chapter 8 Managerial Accounting—"Doing the Numbers" for Internal Decision
Making and Control          

Chapter 9 Corporate Finance—The Big Questions and Key Concepts          


Chapter 10 Organizational Behavior—The Power of People and Leadership          


Chapter 11 Statistics, Decision Analysis, and Modeling—How the Numbers
Help Us Manage          

Chapter 12 Managerial Economics—Microeconomics for Managers          

Chapter 13 Concluding Thoughts          


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