MBA Not So Good After All?


He completed an Executive MBA programme at one of the world’s most prestigious business schools – University of Chicago GSB.

Though he did it part-time and in the Singapore campus (I gather), it should not be too much to ask for at least a reasonable return on his S$124k investment.

Yes, he spent S$124k (US$90k) on this EMBA programme.

He wanted a mid-career switch from a high-tech MNC firm to the seemingly more lucrative management consulting industry.

What did he get in return?

Well, he got his mid-career switch. But he had to take a 25% pay cut. And he got into a junior position.

The 38-year-old Mr Loh has to start from the bottom, after trading his high-tech career and spending a fortune.

So, take all the nice reports and rankings of MBA programmes with a pinch of salt. The figures for “return on investment” and “payback in N years” are perhaps just too forward looking.

Or maybe you should not take EMBA if you want to switch careers. 

Mr Loh’s story is reported in the Straits Times yesterday (link).


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  1. IMHO, e it GSB,Chicago or Wharton or whatever. End of the day without a plan no school or degree can help. In fact going to Biz school should be evaluated based on ROI and if no ROI no point doing that.If a person can get double the pay just because he/she from GSB then we’ll see much bigger q than cheap sales infront of GSB/Insead

  2. From what I see, Mr Loh is not making enough friends in his school. While going back to school to gain new knowledge, Mr Loh should making new friends and build new connections (guanxi) with his Executive-level classmate.

    With this, he can get help from the connection, to pull string to push up his careers.

  3. wait and wait on

    The tradition education system(pri=>sec=>tertiary) is already way old dated and should be overhauled. Today education means attending seminars, specific intensive short courses and training, specific certifications, boot camps and tons of book readings and research.

    The person who insist on going thru the old way of educating oneself is doomed to be paid ordinarily. Remember, the professor who teaches you in university most probably isn’t a millionaire.

  4. Any MBA from any school is pretty much the equivalent of a glorified vocational diploma with the icing of prestige on the top. You don’t go to Business School for the MBA, you go to make friends.

  5. I agree totally with hanneng. It’s well-known that the whole point about MBA is the guanxi. Unfortunately, a lot of people especially in the tech industry thinks that MBA is about studying their behind off to absorb knowledge only. Geeking out only guarantees you poor ROI for MBA.

  6. what a ridiculous subject. What exactly is the ROI of a MBA?

    It is basically the knowledge, the diversity of working with multicultural team mates and many projects with tight deadlines.

    In a way, i believe MBA is important for someone who has worked maybe 5-10 years and felt stagnant where he/she is.

    Yes, the “guan xi” is important as most of the pple taking a MBA are either top executives or Future managers-to-be.Building up a good network from there, can expose you to many more opportunities than you thought there are.

    However, thinking and EXPECTING incredible to happen after MBA is not that desirable as well. Most of the MBA graduates feel that they’re different from everyone else.

    Plesae.. You’re still human.

  7. basically, to get an MBA is to learn additional knowledge for you to have a chance to attain a top management position. Whether could you get a good position depend on how good you can apply your knowledge to work. You may start a low pay but if you have the potential, very soon , you will reach your mark.

  8. the mistakes that ‘Mr Loh’ made were:

    1) he used an EMBA for a career switch. EMBA was never meant for a career switch. If Mr Loh wanted to change his career, he should have taken a full time MBA program when he was much younger.

    2)he restricted his search to Singapore. Frankly, why bother to study in GSB (Chicago), if the plan is to work for a consulting firm in Singapore? If the person is not prepared to relocate or make sacrifices (being away from family etc), why study in schools like Chicago?

  9. i knew of friends that got MBA but still work in government sector. Cannot understand as i think is a waste of money and time. The theories and knowledge learnt cannot be applied there ! They should study Master of Public Administration if want to stay forever in the Civil Service.

  10. I’m taking an MBA now. Basically, before taking any course U should calculate your ROI. How much increment do U expect to get after your MBA?

    If U’re taking a $124K MBA, calculate how long would it would take for you to recoup back that money based on the increment U’ll get after this. If your increment after the course is only $1K, then it would take U 10yrs to get back your investment. And U’re lucky if U get a $1K increment, most Singapore companies are not willing to pay that much.

    Perhaps it’s better to take a cheaper, yet still accredited MBA. Somewhere along the range of $20K to $30K. Then it would take U only 2yrs to recoup back the investment if your increment is $1K. There’s a few unis here which has accreditations like EQUIS, AMBA & AACSB and yet costs less than $30K.

  11. there is no such thing as a risk free investment. Investing in an MBA, any MBA, always entails a risk. At the end of the day,it is really up to you. It is the same with your basic degree. Some make it big with a basic degree, some don’t. I encourage, anyone who is doing an MBA to think big and challenge yourself. Move out of your comfort zone and if given the chance, work overseas.

    some points for anyone interested to do an MBA to consider:
    1) if you do a 20k and 30k MBA in Singapore, the marginal gains will be minimal but I suspect it is a safe bet. Most will not see great increase in salary but the skills and knowledge you learn will come in handy in your personal and professional life in the future. It is really up to you.

    2) if you want to take risks and venture beyond the shores of singapore, I suggest doing an MBA at CEIBS (in shanghai) or Cheung Kong MBA at roughly the same cost but based out in shanghai. pay in china these days are comparable or if not higher than singapore. however, I don’t see many singaporeans venturing outside of singapore. Post MBA,landing a job in China is better than doing an MBA in Singapore. The average pay of a good associate in China in the finance sector is about 80k US$.

    3) if you can afford it, do it in Harvard, MIT, Insead etc. the ROI varies, but the average starting pay is still US$100k excluding sign-on bonus. however, you still need to get out of singapore and prepared to work abroad.

  12. I find the topic relevant and the discussion interesting.

    I think most working professionals aspiring to take up an MBA (whether full time or part time) will consider the RoI part of it – why would you invest so much time, money and effort if you can’t recover the investment within a reasonable time-frame and ofcourse improve your career path – the higher the course fee the more homework you need to do.

    Networking is just an added advantage of going for any course – which you must utilize – but it is not the only reason for going to the classroom. Most of us who haven’t done an MBA (and are not at a senior management level) donot have an allround knowledge of the Business to be able to run it – an MBA should equip you with the skills and competencies required to reach a Senior Management position and also provide an opportunity to develop your soft skills. The industry recognizes someone who has done an MBA from a reputed school as one who is trained and capable of taking qualified Business decisions and understand corporate strategies.

    The case above was unfortunate – but if the person is smart and has learnt the management skills, have the industry knowledge and has developed his soft skills he should be able to quickly revert to his old position and income and exceed that.

    Eventually an MBA is only as good as the person taking it up.

  13. An MBA is not a magic wand, but it’s a good advantage in today’s business world. I was an engineer earning peanuts previously, did an MBA 2 years after work at 27 years old, and now working in the finance industry earning a multiple of my previous salary. The important thing to note is when you do your MBA, if you do it when you’re 30 to 40, you’re probably too old to maximize the advantage of an MBA. The average starting salary of an MBA is about USD 100k, so the lower your pre-MBA the more advantageous it is! If you have a high starting salary and you do an MBA, you’re probably short-changing yourself in the end due to opportunity costs and a marginal increase to your pre-MBA salary.

  14. I need some advice. My friend, who is 43, is pushing me to do the MBA with her because she said that she wants to get back into the work force. She was working in the fashion and fabric industry until about 13 years ago when she became a housewife. I am 36 and I have been in advertising my entire working life; I love my job and I don’t see the need for me to have an MBA. But I think she just wants some company and has nobody else to ask along. I totally agree that it is more about making new contacts from top tier big bracket blue chip companies. The more expensive it is, the more one can hopefully benefit from one’s classmates. What is the best advice that I can give her? Other than to tell her that I don’t need it? And perhaps, neither does she? Thanks lots.

  15. Dear Hesione,

    I would not advice your friend to take the MBA first. She should get back into the working world first before doing her MBA. A lot of people thinks that an MBA is like a magic pill which will solve all career woes. Taking an MBA to get back into the working world is like those full time students who have never worked before taking an MBA right after their degree. No company would employ an MBA holder with no working experience. Even if they do, it’ll be at a degree-holder pay rate.

    That’s why most MBAs require a minimum of 2-3yrs working experience to add credibility to their MBAs. Most assignments in MBAs would require U to include your working experience or relate the assignments to the company U’re working for. So without a company to relate to or experience to bank on, the assignment would not carry any weight. FYI, I have a degree-holder friend who took 5yrs off to bring up her kid. Now she can’t seem to find a job at all. Your friend has taken 13yrs off. It’s gonna be very difficult to get back into the industry esp since the fashion industry is ever-changing. And an MBA is certainly not gonna make this transition any easier for her. She might have to start from the botton rung and climb her way up the corporate ladder again.

    P.S. These “top tier from big bracket blue chip companies” knows that a lot of people are targetting them in class. They would not give U a job just cos’ U’re their classmates.

  16. Hi Sabrina, thanks so much! I will try and tell her to get a job in the fashion and fabric industry first. She graduated from university and straight away worked in the industry for 8 years before settling down. Her plus point is, she was not in retail but in fashion manufacturing related type industry, i.e. very b-to-b, so she can try to slowly work her way into a junior management post, I think.

    She may have been deluded into thinking that she needs to do this MBA from some of her husband’s friends. Their advice may be right for certain candidates, but perhaps, not for her. Thanks again!

  17. im 18 and just got out of high school and wanted to know if getting a MBA is worth the extra school
    or could i make 100k or more a year with out it

  18. I’m Software engineer + MBA Marketing + 4yr experience in Automobile marketing. Getting job offer from a auto brand in Singapore. How much should I expect? 12k p.month? or what?

  19. colt: don’t be a prick in such a forum please. There has been 17 messages before yours and you’re asking a stupid question.

    Learn to read before even thinking of an MBA.

  20. I am 45 and has a degree in Information Technology years ago. I have switched to the Toursim Industry since then.
    Recently I met an acquaintance in the Private Education Industry. I expressed my interest in teaching, and he recommended that I do a MBA because ‘you always have to be a level higher to teach a particular course’, i.e. you have to have a degree to teach a diploma course, a MBA to teach a basic degree course.

    With that sort of prerequistics, it is advisable to study for a MBA?

  21. Usually they would require a minimum of 2yrs teaching/lecturing experience. U can check it out under these private schools website. It doesn’t mean that if U have the cert & working experience U can straight away conduct a class. Handling a class effectively comes with experience.

  22. Thanks Sabrina for your comments. Just to add a little more info. I have conducted classes and facilitated adult training sessions before.
    However, bearing the experience I have, a MBA is still the mandatory requirement especially if the school needs to apply for MOE’s approval. So I suppose an MBA would come in helpful, right?
    The next question is: MBA from which University?
    On a side note, how would one acquire a 2 years teaching/lecturing experience if every organisation stipulates that requirement? One has to start somewhere to get that experience, right?
    Comments, anyone?

  23. Of cos’, an MBA would be handy in getting a lecturer’s job. Everyone has a degree nowadays. It’s not enough. Which university would depend on your budget. Of cos’ if money is not a problem U can spend $124K to take Chicago GSB’s MBA. Most MBAs cost a range of $15K to $50K. So U should find one that fits your budget and will give U a reasonable return of investment. Other than price, U should also look at the no. of modules offered. Anything less than 10 subjects are what we call a mini-MBA and is not viewed very favourably by employers.

    U should also decide if U wanna take an Aust, UK or US MBA. Of cos’ MBAs actually originate from US. So a US MBA is more valuable but there’s not many programmes in S’pore offering this. US MBA are more practical as compared to UK’s which is more theoretical. If U take a US MBA be prepared to be graded based on assignments, presentations & sometimes exams. UK MBAs are mostly exams and assignments and U will have to read a lot of journals & theories. U will also have to submit 15,000 words dissertation to get the MBA. Not so sure abt Aust MBAs tho’ although I would think it’s quite the same style as the US one. Should also check the rankings & accreditation of these unis before U take them.

    Well, not all education centres require exactly 2yrs. Perhaps to gain the experience U can start by working as teaching assts to the lecturers or as tutors and work your way up.

  24. Hi,

    Need advise here…I am a graduate in IT and want to do MBA and specialise in Finance(Islamic) as it one of the booming market right now.

    Is it worth it since the change is total different from my background being IT?

  25. in my humble opinion, having relevant domain knowledge is more important..why not try to get yourself into a bank first in the IT dept?

  26. Hi Fahmy,

    Think if U wanna specialise in finance then it would be MSc in Finance cos’ MBA is pretty general with not much emphasis in finance. My hubby has an IT degree but he took an MBA cos’ he don’t wanna be a support staff forever. With an MSc in IT then U will always be a specialist, not a generalist. An MBA allows U to go into management level.

    So in my opinion, do it if U want but do bear in mind the financial sector is not doing too well nowadays. And like what Masters said, U might wanna work in there 1st to see if U do like the industry before U take up the course.

  27. only an mba from top overseas b schools can propel you into management. look at the ads from the local b schools and you’ll know most are just lowly professionals and will likely remain low to mid level professionals with or without the local mba degree. top US b schools can place u into top MNCs and wall street firms even before u graduate (when economy is normal), something which the local schools can never match. invest in quality.

  28. @ masters,many thanks for your humble opinion.Problem is right now,market is really tight.Growing within is difficult,getting a job outside is even worse.
    @ Sabrina,thanks for the heads up.IT is IT,it will never change,concepts are the same but just updates…saying that,i dont really find Msc in IT useful since i have an IT degree thats why i opt for an MBA,but i am in a dilemma,because sincerely,i dont know the banking industry.I am a muslim,and thought i would do well with Islamic Financing which in Singapore is starting to grow to keep up with Malaysia.
    @ mba,all comes with ROI,how soon will you reach that managerial level depends on luck.
    Right now,i cant grow with my own company because of headcount!

  29. I need some advice on MBA. I am a engineering graduated but i do technical IT for over 13yrs already. Recently due to some unforeseen circumstances, i lost my job. I am now thinking of doing a 1yr MBA course in SG. But i have this question as of how an MBA + IT work experience can land me a managerial job since i browse most of the managerial post doesn’t state to need MBA, its more like they need work experience. So is MBA helpful in getting a managerial job? if i don’t mind getting less than US$100k since my last job doesn’t pay anywhere near that sum.

  30. If you want to do MBA, get into a good programme. The Insead one is good. Most of the people I know found good jobs after graduating.

  31. Thanks starfish for your reply. My situation is not so much on money ROI but on career advancement and time spend since i am in technical IT for so many years and I am thinking to move into managerial in similar industries. Is it recommended to go for a good MBA like Insead for more than 1year? I check Insead, it cost about 150K, tht’s a bit too expensive for me.

  32. I would highly recommend Insead. If you can afford more, it’ll be even better to attend the top schools in the US and Europe.

    Most local MBA programmes seem to give me the impression that they are more for people wanting to upgrade and move up in their current companies, not so much for people looking to switch jobs and/or move into management.

    Just my views.

  33. Gary,

    might be a little harsh, but when u are laid off. its a bit tougher to get into a good MBa program. you have to be prepared for the tough q&a if u can even get to meet the interviewers.

    for your case, i dun recommend insead. you can try NUS, NTU or SMU. try to get a very good SAT, write very well for your application.

    im never a fan of schools which admit students without good SAT and does not conduct rigourous interviews. as a consumer i would want quality over price, esp in this case when precious time n money is involved.

    gd luck

  34. I IT graduated and worked in IT line for 6 years.
    I’m thinking to get MBA and work overseas. Anyone can recomend me which MBA school that not so expensive yet the graduate have higher chance to work in that country.


  35. hey, i did up to a diploma in sg schs and then went on to get a degree from an Aus sch based in Sg. I have no work experience whatsoever and was thinking of whether i shld get an MBA frm the same Aus sch. The mba costs around 25K.

    I dont expect to find a job with a serioiusly high salary after doing my MBA cause i have no work experience. Im satisfied with a degree level salary initially even after the MBA. I dont mind going overseas for jobs.

    I just want to finish my MBA now so that i can start a job at a junior position and work my way up to a senior mgt level w/o having to stall midway to do my MBA later.

    Is this advisible?

  36. why is it better to get a job first? i intend to get one but just for 6 months before starting the MBA.

    Cause if i dont do it now im just gonna have to do it later and the truth is after joining a company and working i dont want to face the problem of not being able to get into a snr mgt role in the future cause i havent done by MBA yet. Plus id have to stall everything to go get it.

    I just feel its gonna be a huge hindrance later on.

  37. as i alluded to earlier, mba is irrelevant. what is more important is your capability. and with the right experience, you’ll get that senior role with or without an mba. if you really yearn for an mba, work a while and then study full time in the best business school possible, preferably not in singapore, and definitely not in a small private institution here.

  38. MBA is not a strong condition for senior management, but if you are lazy and interested to study, it is best to get the MBA first, because it is tiring working to get a parttime MBA and a fulltime MBA has very high opportunity costs after a few years of work.

  39. It really depends on where you work.
    I have worked for previous MNCs where they insist that you need Masters or PHDs to be considered for certain grades of management.
    There are always other companies that you can work for that recognize experience and talents.
    End of the day it takes certain luck to find the right niche.
    I have no talent in studying so i never attempted to get any MBAs or professional certifications.
    But I believe that these are always useful tools to have to open more doors in life.

  40. I need help.
    I am a graphic designer with 8 yrs of experience from India. Now, during my stay at home mom period (3yrs away from the job market since 2007), I am doing a distant MBA program from ICFAI, india. What are my chances of getting a job(management in Graphic industry)in Singapore?
    PS: I will be applying for a PR asa i reach SG, as i will be joining my husband who holds a PR, in the country.

    Also could anybody advice me on how i can enhance my MBA skills as apprehend exposure of a postal education student compared to regular MBA course.

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