Leaders should look wider than a MBA - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

Leaders should look wider than a MBA

Ambitious executives considering furthering their education should carefully consider their options, and not automatically gun for an MBA as many have done in the past two decades.
Results from the company’s 2016 Executive Report, shows that while higher degrees definitely improve a candidate’s attractiveness, an MBA is no longer a ‘magic ticket’.

In the past, an MBA was a rare qualification, and its presence on a candidate’s CV made it a significant and prestigious addition. These days, MBAs are in abundance and no longer make the same impact.

According to findings, 90% of South Africa’s CEOs of Top40 companies have a technical degree, whether it be finance, sciences, business or engineering. Further, more than 90% of them have at least an Honours or other postgraduate degree. Interestingly however, only eight of these higher degrees were of the MBA variety.

The role of MBAs, as the research shows, is possibly over-estimated, with most leaders having higher degrees in other fields.

What is more critical when aiming for the top, is to ensure a strong financial, business or technical qualification, and secondly, having obtained a post-graduate degree.

Where previously a higher degree or MBA boosted a candidate’s chances above his peers, these days such qualifications are required simply to stay in the game. And the perception that an MBA is superior to other Master’s degrees in a technical discipline is incorrect.

There is certainly a case for a Master’s level qualification, as the research shows that 45% of SA’s Top 40 CEOs have obtained these. But the data confirms that there is no particular preference for the type of M degree.

The MBA as a postgraduate Master’s level qualification has had the benefit of fantastic marketing, but another Master’s – provided it is from a reputable institution and particularly if it is in a sought-after focus area - will do you just as well, if not better.

So before jumping on the MBA bandwagon, those considering further education and advanced degrees should carefully assess all their options before making the time and financial commitments required.

Meanwhile, another key insight from the research on the education of Top Leaders was that much more work was required at school-level to ensure transformation in the corporate sector, and that the basic education system was one of the key challenges in the country’s transformation journey.

If maths and science are not mastered at school, there is little hope that a candidate will be able to overcome the initial hurdles of acquiring a financial, technical or business degree, and ultimately claim a top leadership position.

So while we should continue to push at the top to ensure substantial transformation, there is crucial change that needs to be effected at the foundations, which currently do not support long-term and sustainable transformation efforts.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat is the CEO of Jack Hammer.


  1. Join our newsletter to receive all the latest news in the HR space!
  2. Email(*)
    Invalid Input

Contact us

If you have a question or would like to get in touch with us, contact us on +27 11 888 8914 or info@hrfuture.net

Business Hours

We are open:

  • Mon – Fri: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm
  • Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays: closed