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By Dominic Basulto

The growth of the high-tech sector in the USA and Europe has highlighted the attractiveness of possessing both a technical education and an MBA, especially for Russian applicants with a strong mathematics and/or scientific background. There are a number of ways of combining technological know-how with a general management education, varying widely in timing and scope according to one’s dedication to a high-tech career. While the highest-ranked MBA programs are assumed to offer the most innovative and responsive programs to new technological advances, this is not always the case. Much depends on how well the B-school can effectively leverage other resources, both within and without the university as a whole. The three basic options for combining a technical education with an MBA are: (1) dual degree programs with the engineering department (2) e-commerce and information technology concentrations and (3) technology-oriented events and competitions sponsored by the B-school.


The most time-intensive and dedicated approach to obtaining a technical education is via a “dual degree” with the engineering department of the university. Keep in mind that many B-schools are actually part of a larger university system that may include 30,000-50,000 people in the undergraduate, graduate, and professional school ranks, including those at the engineering school. Smaller European B-schools that are not part of a larger university system (such as IMD) obviously can not offer the same option. The most traditional dual degree within the “B-school universe” had been the business-law degree (MBA/JD), but the growth of the Internet sector has meant a build-out of opportunities for students opting for a joint MBA/MSE (Master’s of Science in Engineering). In order to obtain the dual degree, students must apply (and be accepted) to both departments and complete both programs in 20-36 months. Obviously, in order to be accepted to the Engineering department, the candidate must already possess a strong math & science background (but not necessarily work experience in engineering).

Not all of these joint degree programs are created equal. While approximately half of the “Top 20” US business schools offer a specific joint MBA/MSE degree, the length of the programs depends to a large extent on how well the engineering curriculum and business school curriculum are integrated. For instance, some B-schools will count for full credit courses taken outside of the business school (in essence, “double-counting” these courses), while others do not, and vice versa. An “operations management” class taken at the B-school would be more likely to “count” than a class on “organizational behavior.” Consider that Columbia offers a joint MBA/MSE in 21 months; MIT Sloan offers a joint MBA/MSE in 24 months; U.Michigan offers a joint MBA/MSE in 30 months; and Dartmouth Amos Tuck requires a minimum of 36 months to complete the MBA/Master’s in Engineering. Of course, there are other options that are less time-intensive, such as the Master’s of Science (MS) in Management of Technology, which is a 12-month degree program offered by MIT Sloan. Note that even though this program is offered by a business school and includes the word “management,” graduates receive an MS, not an MBA.


Since most candidates probably wish to invest as few additional non-earning months as possible in a technical education, it makes sense to consider a concentration in e-commerce or information technology instead. Students complete the full core curriculum and then take anywhere from 4-8 courses on topics such as “Managing Electronic Commerce” or “Internet business models.” In the 1998 Business Week survey, the highest-ranked “technology” B-schools were MIT Sloan, Carnegie Mellon, Michigan, Wharton, and Chicago. These polls (using data dating back to 1994), however, neither reflect the dominance that Stanford has in Silicon Valley nor the innovative “Technology and E-commerce” program that Kellogg developed in 1999. Moreover, smaller B-schools can become technology powerhouses, as evidenced by the fact that the tiny Instituto de Empresa (with an intake of less than 60 students) has announced Europe’s first complete degree in e-business. There are now over 15 B-schools offering a specific e-commerce concentration, with others (such as IESE) requiring a course in entrepreneurship. In addition, European business schools such as Theseus International Management Institute increasingly attempt to integrate e-business into every facet of the curriculum, without actually offering an e-commerce concentration. Other business schools try to “signal” to students that their curriculum is cutting-edge by renaming the MBA degree; for instance, Bentley now offers an option called the Information Age MBA (the “IAMBA”).

Kellogg, by adding a “Technology & E-Commerce” (TEC) department, joins Wharton, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT Sloan as leaders in the field. The TEC major consists of two required courses, including the Tech Venture program (where students do actual research and consulting for Silicon Valley companies), and three electives. In Europe, London Business School has attempted to position itself through its promotional material as the “number one training ground for Europe’s entrepreneurs and dot com netheads.” Claims like these should obviously be analyzed thoroughly. LBS backs up its claims with evidence such as offering 10 “” courses (including my favorite, “WWW” –“Winning in the Wired World”), coordinating entrepreneurship electives, and running a venture capital fund which invests in start-ups of both students and alumni. Sometimes technology-influenced courses offered by B-schools are inter-disciplinary in nature; MIT Sloan offers two classes, Entrepreneurship Lab and Product Design & Development, where teams are composed of both engineering and business students.


In order to create the appropriate image of being technologically savvy, B-schools have recognized the importance of stimulating the appropriate environment for would-be entrepreneurs and high-tech gurus. B-schools sponsor a wide array of events and competitions, such as Business Plan contests that pay out over $50,000 to the winner, such as the MIT Entrepreneurship Competition. Preparing a winning business plan and then defending it before a panel of venture capitalists is sometimes tantamount to carrying an extra course. Keep in mind that since a “techno MBA” in and of itself does not guarantee a job without prior experience, the projects and competitions sponsored by the B-schools are an excellent way of obtaining this needed experience. B-schools can also support cash-strapped graduates by providing seed capital for start-ups or creating links with area technology incubators or entrepreneurship associations.

Harvard Business School, despite neither offering an e-commerce concentration nor a dual degree in engineering, probably has one of the most widely respected “New Economy” MBA programs. The key has been the speed and persistence of turning theory into practice. The 1998 HBS Business Plan Contest produced Chemdex Corporation, now one of the leading B2B marketplaces. Moreover, HBS has produced over 60 case studies on e-commerce by leveraging resources at its Silicon Valley research center. This is in addition to coordinating the “WesTrek” recruiting field trip to California; sponsoring a “High Tech & New Media” club; and hosting the HBS Entrepreneurship Conference.

Likewise, B-schools located close to a high-tech hub attempt to partner with local entities in order to provide “value-added” to their students. London Business School runs e-business incubators for start-ups low on cash and resources; MIT Sloan provides full access to its Laboratory for Computer Science and Media Lab, and U. Texas-Austin, in addition to affiliating with the IC2 Institute and the Austin Technology Incubator, sponsors the Moot Corp. competition. Lastly, forward-thinking business schools have embraced “technology partners,” such as Pensare partnering with HBS (giving it access to HBS Publishing’s “expert content”), Duke Fuqua, and Wharton.


Precepts of the New Economy (e.g. “intellectual capital is more important than fixed assets”) have infiltrated into the B-school experience. Advantages accrue to those programs located in high-tech hotbeds - such as Austin, Boston, and Silicon Valley- as well as to those partnered with a strong information technology or engineering curriculum within a different department of the university. Russian candidates graduating from one of these tech-savvy MBA programs stand to profit from increased job opportunities in the West. Before rushing to enroll in an e-commerce or information technology program, though, recognize that B-schools are in the business of providing top management education which can respond to the needs of the New Economy, not necessarily in keeping students abreast of the latest technology. Only focusing on practical technical aspects at the expense of business theory means risking becoming obsolete within 24 months instead of becoming a long-term strategic manager. Russian candidates who maintain a balance between both business theory and hands-on technological know-how can leverage both the reputation of the Russian scientific-technical establishment and the luster of a Western MBA.

Dominic Basulto is a 1998 graduate of Yale School of Management and currently works as a consultant for Pericles ABLE (American Business & Legal Education) in Moscow. Pericles offers a full MBA advising program. For contact information, please call: 292-5188/6463.

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