• Parag Diwan

New MBA : Skillsets Required for Today

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Modern MBA in the wake of Industry 4.0

MBA program, since its start in the US over a century ago, has enjoyed increasing respectability in academia and growing prestige in the business world.

However, over the last five decades, corporations have expanded in scale and size. Business organizations need legal, professional, well-trained, creative leaders that are global in outlook. Unfortunately, with the changing times, B-Schools did not bother to adjust the way it was done and what the content really focuses on. The justification for this was that recruitment to the premier schools was highly selective, and the salary packages of graduates became increasingly dazzling.

Today, the MBA programs are severely criticized for not being able to impart useful skills, their inability to develop leaders, and failing in instilling norms of ethical behavior. Students, employees, media, and even academicians of Business schools voice their concerns over these issues. The actual reason for today’s crisis in management education is far broader in scope. This is because there is a thinking that the decline is not due to a less-than-relevant MBA curriculum which is merely a symptom of a deeper malady that ails the modern business school.

For several years, many leading schools, have gradually followed an inappropriate model of academic excellence. Instead of judging themselves in terms of the competence of their graduates, they assess themselves almost solely by the rigor of their research. They have adopted a methodology that uses abstract financial and economic analysis, statistical multiple regressions, and highfalutin psychology. Some of the research produced is excellent, but very little focused on the current market activities. Therefore, the focus of graduate business education has become increasingly convoluted — and less and less relevant to practitioners.

As mentioned, b-schools lags far behind with what today’s technologies make possible in terms of virtual learning and individualized customized instruction. Business education hence required to be evolved by revisiting its aim to educate future leaders who have a new set of skills: sustainable global thinking, entrepreneurial and innovative talents, and decision-making based on pragmatism.

The original model of b-schools was ingrained with concepts of the earlier industrial revolution but with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, skills sets that the MBA program should inculcate are summarized in the graphic below:

Skill sets needed in the world of the 4th Industrial Revolution

The skills that the modern leaders need are trans-disciplinary in nature with emphasis on cognitive and adaptive learning, design intent, collaborative working in an increasingly technology-aided workplace.

Role of Liberal Studies in rejuvenating MBA with cognitive and collaborative skill sets

Traditionally, a well-rounded foundation has been a major inadequacy of MBA programs which can be built through selective liberal studies courses. A carefully curated liberal studies foundation comprising of critical thinking, cognitive learning, seminal historic events, fine arts can equip learners with a foundation consisting of linguistic abilities and provide them with an innate sense of design, social intelligence, and new media literacy. To handle the challenges of an ambitious global career, future MBA professionals will need self-confidence, strong character, and a multi-dimensional personality. It is thought that the liberal studies foundation builds these attributes in the students.

However, restructuring business education implies more than building liberal studies foundation. The entire MBA curriculum should be infused with a multidisciplinary inquiry, resolution of ethical dilemma, and data-oriented analysis of complex challenges business leaders face.

Augmenting MBA curriculum with cutting-edge technology

The disruptive power of technology is very much evident with the ushering of the fourth industrial revolution. The future generation of leaders must have an adequate appreciation of technology. Future businesses are mostly technology-enabled or built around emerging technologies.

A management graduate is not expected to do an engineer’s job, but in a world where automation is fast disrupting businesses, anyone in a leadership position must have adequate knowledge of technology as they would have to grapple with difficult decisions about the trade-offs between increasing automation and re-skilling those workers whose current skills are no longer useful.

Business managers and leaders need to understand and comprehend the advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, and automation and their transformational impact. The modern MBA program should have courses that provide an overview of the latest developments in robotics, automation, and advances in information technology, and their effect on our current way of life and work.


A recent trend shows that most premier schools are gradually introducing in their MBA programs courses providing an over-arching view of artificial intelligence, robotics, genomics et al through coursework, case studies, seminars, and conferences. It is believed that high technology has to be a part of the business school curriculum. The goal of such courses is to help students learn about what these technologies can deliver and the challenges and opportunities for a company that utilizes them.

The new approach of creating a liberal studies foundation and technology-focused courses in most MBA programs can offer valuable perspectives. The business schools and MBAs both will need to be ready to adapt traditional rules of business to a brave new world of the fourth industrial revolution and the skills that it needs. How well they handle this transition might just determine whether the rise of technology will represent a boon or a burden for society in the 21st century and beyond.

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Article on “ How Business Schools Lost their way” by Warren Bennis and James O’Toole, Harvard Business Review, May 2005 issue

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