Skip to content

Operations Research Key to MBAs

Stacy Blackman, in the blog “Back to B-School”, has a short summary of the ideas of Matthew Stewart, author of The Management Myth, a book highly critical of of the world of MBA education. Since I primarily teach operations research in the Tepper MBA program, I was heartened by Stewart’s views:

While Stewart believes that highly specialized studies in areas such as process-oriented, operations research can be useful training for managers, it’s the case-study oriented, generalist programs such as Harvard Business School that are less useful. Stewart says this is a problem of content:

In order to produce generalist courses, business school professors have been forced to invent subjects called strategy, called organizational behavior, and so on. They’re pretty much pseudo-sciences, and when you use them as a basis for instruction, you’re really teaching people how to master arcane jargon that has minimal connection to the real world, as opposed to teaching them to really think.


Stewart would like to see MBA programs focus not only on business but on broader subjects that would be useful to developing knowledge and critical thinking, such as political theory or evolutionary biology. At the same time, he believes greater specialization is key. “Forget all this nonsense about general case studies and teach how logistics operations work in a complicated supply organization. Give them a real specialization as opposed to a phony one,” says Stewart.

I wouldn’t go as far as Stewart, at least as projected in these quotes, since I do believe there are useful insights from strategy and organizational behavior, primarily through the more formal, less “war story” teaching that you get at some business schools (including the Tepper School).

Maybe we can see a resurgence of operations research in business schools!

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Siah | September 8, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    My only problem with the MBA programs is that I sometimes feel that the students are there only for the degree. They are not as motivated to work on the scientific parts of problems as OR students are and when turning in projects they typically care more about the cosmetics in the report than the actual substance (not that the cosmetics does not matter)

    Nevertheless I sometimes see very strong students specially those who are coming with a solid math background.

  2. David Rothman | September 9, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Graduating Wharton with degrees in Finance & Decision Sciences (focusing on the OR side) and then receiving an MBA from U of C (Finance, OR & Econometrics), my perspective is jaded, but to me, business schools are all about acquiring tools and understanding the context with which they should and could be applied. Those in MBA programs who shy away from the math & analytics aren’t helping themselves or their potential employers.

    These days, especially for those (still) interested in finance, I’d argue the quantitative financial engineering degrees are much more beneficial than an MBA (certainly those of the case-study type).

    To me, marrying what i knew/learned/discovered about math (calc & linear algebra) along with the tools acquired in school (including becoming a computer jock esp in array oriented langs) was the key to becoming a valuable resource in the places I worked.

    Bottom line to kids in school – learn tools/skills (including how to code efficiently)…have a big toolbox…be careful about applying degrees of specificity to problems that don’t warrant them and you’ll graduate much more able to help an organization than if all you know are parables (especially hoary ones). The doesn’t mean ignore history. It means the amount of time in school is a short and leverage as much as you can from it. The stories can either be a part of that education (or learned later on your own), but it shouldn’t be all of it..

  3. Corporate Identity | September 10, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Basically I totally agree with Siah, only my guess is – the sutdents arent there for the degree. They are there cause of all the stuff that come AFTER you’ve got an MBA degree, especially form an Ivy League school.