Lagos Business School, since inception in 1991, has grown in leaps and bounds and now offers globally competitive Masters in Business Administrations (MBA) degrees that train modern business managers and positions them to actualise their goals of getting attractive jobs or starting their own businesses. In this interview with the Director of the MBA Programme, Dr Uchenna Uzo, issues related to the MBA programme ranging from its financial benefits to the unique skills it imparts on students and why the industry relies so much on graduates of the programme to recruit managers, amongst other issues, were explored.
What is the MBA degree all about and what is particularly attractive about the degree?
First, we run 3 distinct MBA programmes and so when you refer to the MBA degree, I assume you are referring holistically to what the programme offers. I will speak in general about what the 3 programmes offer. The MBA programme is aimed at equipping managers to have a firm grasp of the principles of general management as opposed to specialisations like accounting, finance, or human resource management. We focus on a broad spectrum of management disciplines because we want those who come on the programme to be well-equipped to build their careers. Our experience has shown that managers who have breadth and depth of knowledge in business management are more useful to organisations than those trained in one aspect of management. So, the MBA programme is a general management degree that equips professionals with strong analytical skills, problem-solving skills and high ethical standards – this means that students become ethically aware and struggle to abide by those principles. Another strong point of the MBA is that it offers students a global perspective to business and at the same time provides local relevance to the needs of the market. The advantage of an LBS MBA as opposed to an MBA from any of the Ivy League schools, which people might be attracted to go for, is that it is the best preparation for a successful career in management in Nigeria because of the alumni network, financial returns that accrue and the great possibility to make an impact on the immediate community.
Though you’ve mentioned it, but could I ask you to expatiate further. Why should I do an MBA in Nigeria if I could go to Harvard, to Wharton, to INSEAD, to London Business School for instance?
Thank you for the question. The LBS MBA has a number of unique features which I was emphasising earlier. The first is that we are one of the schools with the richest and well thought-out curriculum on ethics and sustainability. And this is an aspect that is under-emphasised by a number of schools because they just don’t have the background or the training to deliver it in a compelling way. But we have developed a rich curriculum that allows that to happen. The other bit is our emphasis on and personalised attention to the individual student through our mentoring, counselling and various life project activities. We are more concerned about individual participants. We are not just seeking a transactional relationship with them but looking for a transformational relationship. We are interested not only in their academic and professional development but also in their personal and social development.
Other unique features about the programme are that the returns on investment are much higher when one does the programme here than when one goes for the programme abroad. In our recent survey on the impact of the MBA on our graduates over the last five years, we found that on a full-time MBA programme the average graduate earned 180 percent more in terms of monthly salary than what s/he earned prior to the programme. On the executive MBA programme, we found that they earn close to 30 per cent more upon completion of the MBA programme. There is also the fact that this programme better equips managers who wish to localise themselves in Nigeria to have high job performance and to be relevant in the industry as opposed to doing an external programme where in the end the person still needs to find a way to reintegrate himself/herself into the society.
Finally, the other big advantage of the LBS MBA is the fact that given the state of the economy and the exchange rate devaluation, the cost of doing an MBA outside the country right now is astronomically high and one doesn’t get as much return on investment compared to doing it in Lagos Business School where return on investment is guaranteed at a fair price. So we actually offer more value, in terms of tuition fees, than what people who study abroad pay.
There was a recent McKinsey survey of over 2800 employers across the globe revealed that 4 out of 10 employers cannot find workers to fill entry-level positions in their firms. Specifically, more than one-third of respondents (employers) stated that their businesses were experiencing limitations because of the absence of appropriate skills. Is the MBA degree tailored or positioned to meet that need of employers?
The answer is yes. Our MBA programme is designed for professionals with at least 3 years (and above) post-graduation work experience; we don’t immediately work with entry level candidates. Having said that, our programme helps in many ways to prepare candidates for industry. First of all, we have a career services unit that tracks the needs of the industry and ensures that those needs feature in the curriculum that we offer our students. We also try to make sure that we place our full-time MBA students in relevant companies to undertake internship projects that help them identify problems that organisations have and proffer useful solutions.
Also regarding the skills gap, we discovered that companies complain a lot about the poor grammar or rather poor communication skills among some of their job applicants. The school has developed a robust curriculum to help address this wider problem. This involves a well thought-out course on management communication and sessions on presentation skills. We have also hired a Communications Coach whose role is to offer coaching to particular individuals who might have special problems with communications. We’ve institutionalised systematic exercises that help students improve their communication skills. This is just an example of some of the things we are doing based on what the industry is asking for and the state of education in the country. Lagos business school is positioned to help raise the quality of people that are being sent to industry.
You mention that LBS now only accepts full-time MBA candidates with three years relevant work experience. I am aware that you formerly accepted candidates with one -ear work experience which the NYSC period could suffice for. So why the change?
Thank you. First, to make things clears, it is good to know that presently the requirement for application into the full-time MBA is at least three years post graduation work experience. For the executive MBA programme and for the modular executive MBA programme, a total of at least 7 years relevant managerial experience is required. The executive MBA and modular Executive MBA are part-time programmes which students embark upon over a period of 24 calendar months whereas the full-time MBA is a full-time programme that runs for 18 calendar months.
Returning to your question about why the number of years of experience required to be on the programme was increased; it was specifically because our research showed that more than 40 per cent of our full-time MBA students already had three years or more work experience. Secondly, we found that in order to be more competitive globally, we have to align with the global trend. Also, if we do not make the entry requirements three years of experience, we would not be able to participate in international exchange programmes which we have started to do. We must have students whose profile match the profiles of those we want to exchange with and the basic principles in each of these schools is that you need to have at least three years work experience and above. We also found that over time in terms of career opportunities and speed of placements, participant with more years of experience tended to be quick at getting placed than those with less. So for multiple reasons, we found out that increasing the years of experience will only improve the quality of students on the full-time MBA programme.
LBS has been running the MBA for some time now. What has been the experience of those who have gone through the LBS MBA in terms of job placement, financial returns and their outlook on life?
I will start with the full-time MBA. In terms of job placements our experience has been that after 18 calendar months of being on the full-time MBA programme with Lagos Business School, 94 per cent of MBA students get placed within the first year of graduation and 75 per cent get placed within the first six months of graduation. This, for us, shows how much the industry values the quality of students produced. In terms of salary average, as mentioned earlier, we found that in the last five years, the average rate of increase in salaries paid to our MBA students post graduation was 180 percent, which is a huge jump and there are very few schools on this planet that have that rate of increase immediately after graduation. Not even Harvard has that presently. This is mainly because the market perceives the quality of the graduates that come from the full-time MBA programme. In terms of job performance and career progression, we also found through our study that the knowledge and skills acquired from the full-time MBA accounts for at least 80 per cent of variables that contribute to high job performance. On the executive MBA programme, we have seen a similar trend. Not only does the MBA contribute to about 80 per cent of what it takes to excel on a job, we also found salary increases of close to 30 per cent. We also found something interesting, which is that many of our graduates are moving in the direction of entrepreneurship thanks to the MBA. So a number of them have gotten the skills and the knowledge required to build their own businesses post MBA – some with their colleagues; some with other alumni of the School. But I will say what has even been more impactful is the level of contribution these graduates have been able to make to society as a result of having come here because they have come to learn that success is not just about improving the personal wellbeing alone but also about making an impact in the society. So we have had a numbers of our graduates playing key roles in the society. You may probably know that the recently appointed secretary to the Lagos state government is an alumnus of the executive MBA programme. We have a number of other distinguished alumni who are playing very important roles in the society or have started their own businesses that are doing quite well.
That is interesting! So you’re making a good business case for someone, for instance, who has a good job and you’re telling him ‘look, resign; come and do the MBA and after doing the MBA you will earn significantly higher or more than what you are earning now.’ It seems that there is a real skills gap that exists in the industry that this MBA programme is helping to address given the huge increase in salary post-graduation. Sorry to ask again, can you fill us in on those particular or even severe needs which the industry is facing in terms of managers and which this MBA is helping to address?
First, I will say that different industries have different needs. So i will only be speaking generally. Indeed, as you mentioned, there is a skills gap that many industries or organisations complain about – basic things like literacy, problem solving, analytical reasoning and communication. These are just the basic skills required not to talk about the core technical skills that are now required to excel in different roles; hands-on exposure and experience that can help people be willing to innovate or try out new things in the work place as opposed to waiting to be told what to do. These are some of the gaps that have been identified and the MBA programme is helping to really make a transformational impact on the lives of participants who might have passed through an educational system which made them deficient in certain aspects of their academic development. In concrete terms, one of the first things the MBA offers its participants is the ability to take decisions in a quick but well thought-out way. It provides them with the analytical competence that they need to not just act on impulse but to consider all the relevant criteria that are required. The other thing that the MBA offers them is building an entrepreneurial mindset that helps them take initiative in the work place and become change agents – people who are seeking to make impact; who are seeking to do things differently from what the status quo dictates. Another very important component of the programme that helps to address some of the skills that we were talking about is the building of leadership potentials in people. We have a lot of MBAs who have embarked upon what we call personal social responsibility projects which helps them to make a direct and immediate impact – which also has commercial value not just social value to the communities or the societies where they belong. Put together, these different interventions that the programme offers makes students experience real transformation in the way they think, in the way they act, and also in what they are able to do overtime thanks to the quality of the programme.
You talked about how some MBA’s are becoming entrepreneurial because of the programme. How many of these students have decided to go entrepreneurial rather than job seekers at the end of MBA programme? Can you give us some numbers?
I think we have seen different trends in different programmes. We have seen the most impact in terms of entrepreneurship in the executive MBA programme where an average of about 70 per cent of those who enrolled for the programme have a business idea they are hoping to execute or have a small business by the side even if they might be working in the corporate world. So what this programme does for them is that it immediately exposes them to the ideas on how they can take those businesses to the next level and at the end of it some end up leaving the corporate world to dedicate themselves specifically to these businesses. But what we see overtime is that five to ten years after graduation, most end up doing businesses of their own if they don’t end up as corporate CEOs. For example: Austin Okere of Computer Warehouse Group – a serial entrepreneur. He was in the first set of the executive MBA programme and has done a lot since then; Clem Omatseye, Fabian Ajogwu, who is a professor now and Senior Advocate of Nigeria who has several businesses; Peter Bamkole who heads the Enterprise Development Centre etc. We have seen that indeed this programme has had a great impact on them and has led them in the direction of not only entrepreneurship but also entrepreneurship that has a social impact.
On the full-time MBA programme, we are gradually beginning to see a rise in the number of those who immediately veer into interesting businesses. There is the example of Uka who started a business that mainly tries to meet a social need linking furniture consumers with furniture makers especially furniture makers in open markets. He has a portal that does this linkage and it has proven to be a successful business which he started right after he finished the MBA programme. There are lots of other businesses of this kind. What we see in the full-time MBA programme is that many of them go into entrepreneurship a number of years after they make some impact in the industry and add up experiences.
Why has the LBS stopped the usual pre-admission test and now insist all prospective candidate take the GMAT? What is so special about the GMAT and how does it help students on the MBA?
First of all, the LBS MBA has not stopped its administered test. However, this administered test now only applies to those who take the executive and modular executive MBAs.
Why is that so?
The reason why the school opted for the official GMAT or GRE for applicants of the full-time MBA programmes was again to align with international standard practice and to ensure that applicants have what it takes to cope with the rigour of the programme. There is a certain level of rigour required of applicants who wish to be on the programme. We found out overtime that the GMAT, which test analytical competence, critical reasoning, writing and brevity, was best suited for testing these skills in applicants. Secondly, because we do exchange programmes with top reputable schools around the world, performance on the GMAT is also a pre-requisite for participating in the exchange programmes. Also, we are positioning ourselves to receive participants from other parts of the world and especially from neighbouring countries who might want to participate in the LBS full-time MBA programme. Having the GMAT positions us better to welcome such participants as opposed to an LBS administered test which is adapted mostly to our immediate environment. That, I will say, explains why we now insist on the GMAT or GRE from candidates for the full-time. On the other hand, for the executive/modal executive MBA programme, we are looking at managers with a different skills set. We are more concerned about the depth of their managerial experience: what they have done in their present and past roles and the potentials they have for the future, the level of expertise they are bringing to the class, the industry they represent. These are some of the criteria we look at and that is why we have felt that it will be important to offer a differentiation and not offer the same kind of exam to participants who have very different profiles.
Thank you very much for your time