First Week

So I’ve done my first week of my MBA, which consisted of lectures on:

1. Organisational Behaviour, i.e. how the shape and behaviour of organisations change as they grow.

2. Management Skills

3. Managerial Accounting

4. Marketing Management

5. Quantitative Business Methods, i.e. statistics

The lecture on statistics involved a certain amount of maths, and I saw a quadratic equation for the first time in years. Happily, it’ll not be a patch on the maths I had to tackle for my engineering degree. There will be no matrices or complex numbers, for a start. So far, I’m finding it all quite interesting, even the accounting. Yesterday a classmate nudged me and asked whether I was genuinely paying attention or just faking it. I replied that compared to sitting through French meetings, this was like watching an action movie. Things will have to get an awful lot duller before I start to regret coming here.

On Wednesday one of my classmates asked whether he thought our MBA was worth the money (about 32k euros). I ran a few numbers and worked out we get around 480 hours of lectures over the academic year, which works out at 65-70 euros per hour. A lawyer will charge 300 euros per hour, and a plumber around 100. Unless the lecturer  is a complete moron, this is pretty good value even if you’re in a class of twenty students. On top of that, we get guest speakers, company visits, and all the informal interaction with the professors. Whether the MBA will land you a job which pays enough to justify the outlay is another matter.

In my final term I’ll need to write a dissertation on a subject of my choosing, although it  ought to be related to HR and add to the sum total of academic knowledge. It must be between 15k-20k words, which having written a 76k word book doesn’t worry me much. But what about the topic? I’m tempted to address one of the subjects I bang on about on here. Perhaps a study into the effects of affirmative action regarding women and minorities on young men (or women) in a multinational? Does it make them re-think their future with the company, or dissuade them from applying in the first place? Or maybe the contradiction between a company’s commitment to diversity and their embrace of local content laws? I could even look at the effects of local content laws in some manner. I’ve got no idea how I would even begin to research any of this – my biggest worry is I don’t think companies would share data or allow me access – but they’d be interesting topics of study, and I need that. Has anyone done anything like this before?

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29 thoughts on “First Week

  1. Perhaps a study into the effects of affirmative action regarding women… on… men

    I keep reading on blogs that modern dissertations in the academia can now be based on ‘lived experience’, so I suggest sticking with this, as opposed to going the whole transgender-toilet-dilemma route. Maybe you can add an appendix on the secondary effects of inebriation, etc.

  2. “”…..Does it make them re-think their future with the company….”””

    Absolutely no. The big systems are very inert and bad things happen with 10-20 years of delay. And everybody knows that.

    Now is 2 ways. Be a truth teller and ruin your career. Be a conformist , fill your pockets and when disaster hit, then step aside with your millions, retire and enjoy the life.

    Today nobody thinks about future. Everybody thinks, how to live until the future kicks in and how I am prepared to future. Of course, future is a race war but it is better to survive race war when you are rich man. And only way to getting rich today is to be rabid diversity advocate.

    It is widespread. Any time, when somebody want to speak out against whatever stupidity, he or she gets the same answer. Your activism does not change anything and only thing you get is your career ruined.

  3. Topic suggestion;

    How about a proper statistical, evidence-based enquiry into the claims that diverse organisations, boards, etc. perform better?
    Did HP, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Uber, etc. become very successful before the diversity mantra or because of it?

  4. Rather than tackle affirmative action head on, which may raise hackles, why not do it on differences in hiring/promoting methods.

    How easy it is to get the person you want if the hiring system is opaque enough, while ignoring the intent of the rules. How useless interviews are. Having HR make hiring decisions that other departments get to carry the can on.

    There’s tons of stuff already on that, from an academic standpoint. But you could use your inside knowledge of different countries (and languages) to advantage.

  5. If you are paying 100euro for a plumber you have more money than sense, I’ll nip round and sort for you for free.

  6. What about a study of the drivers for diversity in each of the major sectors and regions. Which I think is mostly due to the various stock exchange reporting and compliance requirements. What the actual implementation status is for each of the areas and sectors, high achievers, lagging achievers the whys and wherefores, the benefits and lessons learned.

    Case studies of leading organizations that have been implementing workplace diversity programs for some time and are now questioning the benefit of them.

    Why Atlassian is on ‘a mission to get rid of diversity’
    Software-maker wants employees to have sense of belonging

    https://www.computerworld.com.au/article/647774/why-atlassian-mission-get-rid-diversity/

    Probably an outlier but I done a lot of research many moons ago for an organisation that I had recently joined on the pros and cons of workplace alcohol and drug testing surveillance schemes. The first thing I realised was how much high quality research information was available on this subject plus it was abundantly clear that alcohol is orders of magnitude more harmful to organisations than drugs.

  7. Hey, I have a friend in Vladivostok who used to write dissertations for money. She could give you some pointers.

    Barton beat me to the Atlassian reference. That’s very interesting. Many major companies publish their diversity statistics in their annual reports, but that may be too superficial for a deep dive in a dissertation. As for access, I’m sure your school would have to be instrumental in getting you in the door to get more data. I don’t know how the data could be handled properly with such tight privacy laws these days, but I would think there would be something they have to submit to governments, too, perhaps. All in all, I don’t know how this whole process works, but I have a feeling I’ll learn about it right here!

  8. “There will be no … complex numbers, for a start.” Complex and, more specifically, imaginary numbers became unfashionable in accounting following the Enron débâcle, circa 2001, didn’t they? 🙂

    And writing a dissertation about about the benefits, or otherwise, of affirmative action? You’re attracted to controversy, aren’t you? But I’d be interested in the results of some truly impartial research on the subject.

    In the meantime, it sounds like things have got off to a good start for you. Good luck with your studies and your new career.

  9. I recently was an external reviewer for an MSc psychology thesis*.

    The methodology was an online self-reported survey, which means the results were bollocks but at least gives the candidate some numbers to work with. It means they can prove they can think about and implement various research methodologies, talk about the weaknesses and strengths of the approach, that kind of thing, so as good as we can expect of a good master’s thesis.

    It got me thinking, if you really want to scrape the bottom of the barrel you could survey people who happen to comment on a supposedly alt-right blog on the matter.

    *: I lead a weird, varied, and rarely boring professional life, as any stalkers will have gathered by now, but this really is one of the odder tall stories for the grandchildren I won’t have.

  10. I recommend that you avoid being on the wrong side of a contentious topic.

    My impression was that dissertations for this sort of degree almost never require hard data, but I expect you will have a pretty good idea of what is expected (and allowed) once the time comes.

  11. A lot of pages in the average annual report are taken up by various statements on pay, equality, diversity, modern slavery etc. Some discussion about how effective they are, or even if they have had any effects beyond padding company reports, might be a good research topic

  12. If you really want to be contentious and look at how diversity can hobble companies here’s a starting point: http://timharford.com/2018/10/why-big-companies-squander-brilliant-ideas/

    My favourite disruptor is M-Pesa because the banks had politicians in their pocket but really were asleep. By the time they realised what was happening it would have been suicidal for politicians to shut down M-Pesa.

    The question is: does diversity make large companies more or less likely to fall to disruptors? My guess is yes, because women like comfort zones and are more likely than men to be blind-sided by innovators.

    For the avoidance of doubt I’m talking about variance not absolutes.

  13. BiND

    Interesting read. I’d add that a company with a large number of women in management would be rule heavy. IME women like clear rules and structures, and function poorly in fast moving, loosely structured environments.

    An interesting study would contrast the performance of women in bureaucracies and start-ups.

  14. Hi Tim. In the UK the new big buzzwords in HR are ‘Mental Wellbeing’ in the workplace (in addition to the usual diversity mantra). This is cos lots of companies are being sued by snowflakes claiming their boss/company never supported them through their private mental anguish/torment and fired them for not doing the job they were employed to do instead even if the boss/company were not the stressors in the first place. A useful place to start?

  15. “But what about the topic? I’m tempted to address one of the subjects I bang on about on here. Perhaps a study into the effects of affirmative action regarding women and minorities on young men (or women) in a multinational? Does it make them re-think their future with the company, or dissuade them from applying in the first place?”

    I’m sure you’d do a good job on it, but maybe you’ll make people nervous. You’re doing things for an educational institution that I’m guessing gets some government money and has links to huge, institutional businesses. “Diversity makes us better” is a religious tenant to these people. No-one’s ever really measured it, though.

    (in my experience, there’s good things about having even one woman in a software team – they’re more focussed on requirements and what the business wants, while the blokes tend to be stronger on innovation with tech. But black programmers are a lot like white programmers or Indian ones.

  16. Tesla is a good example of everything that a properly functioning organization isn’t. Now that Elon Musk’s state funded bubble has burst, let’s see how long they got.
    ……………………………………………………………………………………
    Tesla Is a Test Case for California’s Push to Add Women to Boards
    California is pushing for more diversity on boards.

    California has just passed a law requiring publicly traded companies with more than five directors to have at least two or three female board members by 2021, citing the dominance of women in the population and in making purchasing decisions. The thinking is also that more diverse boards lead to better business decisions and financial performance because they reflect independent, nonconsensus thinking that challenges the status quo and helps avoid risks.

    https://www.barrons.com/articles/tesla-is-a-test-case-for-californias-push-to-add-women-to-boards-1538669785?mod=hp_DAY_10

  17. Bardon,

    “The thinking is also that more diverse boards lead to better business decisions and financial performance because they reflect independent, nonconsensus thinking that challenges the status quo and helps avoid risks.”

    That’s BS. Because to get on the board, you’re chosen by people for matching what they want. Almost no-one gets onto the boards of huge companies who is a nonconformist, male or female. The only time nonconformist gets a chance is when a company is on it’s knees and they have nothing to lose.

    And women are far more conformist than men. They’re far more likely to follow the rules than to look at the rules and find ways to break them. When Steve Jobs was reinventing Apple on his second visit as a whole new thing, Carly Fiorina was transforming HP into a company selling the same low-value consumer goods as everyone else.

  18. @Bloke on M4 – “That’s BS.”

    Worse than that, is that Jerry Brown and the Kool Aid crew are mandating it. This whole state propped up Teska thinking is looking very iffy all of a sudden and Elon’s mental breakdown is just another example of the pretend mighty that have fallen since Trump got in.

    Happy days.

  19. Re women on Boards, this is a bit out of date (2013):

    The economic case for gender quotas is, however, shakier than its advocates seem to realize. Morgan Stanley and the CED cite studies by both Catalyst, a women’s advocacy group, and McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm, showing large economic gains accruing to companies with female directors. Catalyst’s 2007 study found that, “On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 percent.” But neither study has established causation: More female directors could be a consequence, rather than a cause, of business success. Aspiring upstart firms often need to fill their boards with financial backers and business partners (who may be disproportionately male), while rich, established firms may have more leeway and more interest in broader considerations like gender equality.

    Some studies, moreover, find a negative relationship between women directors and firm performance. In a 2008 paper in the Journal of Financial Economics, economists Renee Adams and Daniel Ferreira found that female directors had better meeting attendance and were more active in “monitoring” their firms—but that “the average effect of gender diversity on firm performance is negative… Our results suggest that mandating gender quotas for directors can reduce firm value for well-governed firms.” Deborah Rhode and Amanda Packel, both directors at Stanford University’s Center on the Legal Profession, are committed to getting women on boards but object to hyperbole and overstatement in the research. In their exhaustive 2010 review of the literature, they conclude: “The relationship between diversity and financial performance has not been convincingly established.” And here is an intriguing 2012 finding from business professors Charles O’Reilly (Stanford) and Brian Main (University of Edinburgh): “We find no evidence that adding women outsiders to the board enhances corporate performance. We do find some evidence that male CEOs with higher levels of compensation are more likely to appoint women outsiders and that boards with more women outside members are more generous in paying the CEO.”

    The richest source of empirical experience is from Norway, which in 2003 required that all publicly listed companies promptly move to 40 percent women directors or be liquidated. That worked. Female board membership soared from nine percent in 2003 to 40 percent today. But, as a 2011 University of Michigan study concluded, Norwegian firms suffered a decline in value: “The quota led to younger and less experienced boards…and a deterioration in operating performance.” So far, the program has done little to increase the number of Norwegian women in upper management. What it has done is greatly enrich about 70 much-sought-after women who now hold more than 300 board seats. Critics refer to them derisively as the Golden Skirts or the Old Girls Club.

  20. @David Moore on October 7, 2018 at 4:35 am

    +1

    Also, men tend to be more pragmatic and willing to bend/break rules.

  21. I always warn my son to never work at a company that employs an MBA, which is why he has succeeded as a metalurgical engineer for many years

  22. The only female director that I have worked with and am still in contact with is Sue Murphy. I worked with her during her ascendancy at Clough she came up through the ranks as a site engineer, was smart, tough and had balls. She is just about to leave her chairmanship! of a large WA corporation now and she was the first female director in Clough and also the only female director in the construction sector that I have met and I sit on a board and have met many other of my sectors directors.

    She was strongly influenced by Harold Clough, who is probably the greatest living Australian engineering and construction leader. So yes it takes a bloke to make one and yes there are some gooduns out there, but they must be selected on merit and not just because they are a sheila.

    https://chiefmaker.com.au/15-sue-murphy-ceo-of-water-corporation/

  23. Tim,
    There’s a mountain of research on aspects of diversity/gender/class/privilege w.r.t. the hiring process. But just as good companies survive through creative destruction and bad ones just die, so it is true in my view that the companies which manage best to weed out their dross (the real dross – not necessarily the ‘un-pc’ ones) gain a competitive advantage. I find the HR aspects of shedding staff a lot more interesting than those of acquiring them. And, I think, these are much less well researched or understood. Do, for example, the black duffers face a lower risk of sacking than the white duffers? Is there a link between labour market flexibility and relatively more tolerant racial attitudes/ (think France vs UK). I’d vote for you to look into some aspect of getting rid of staff and the impact that has on the organisation.

  24. Be a conformist , fill your pockets and when disaster hit, then step aside with your millions, retire and enjoy the life.

    If I could do that I’d still be working for a major oil company.

  25. Some great feedback here folks, thanks a lot. I especially like this:

    How easy it is to get the person you want if the hiring system is opaque enough, while ignoring the intent of the rules. How useless interviews are. Having HR make hiring decisions that other departments get to carry the can on.

    Mainly because it’s a problem all companies acknowledge, and is right in line with why I’m going into HR in the first place.

  26. More female directors could be a consequence, rather than a cause, of business success.

    Yup, that’s what I reckon too.

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