MBA why invest in your HR career? Part one of four

Written by
Changeboard Team

31 Oct 2012

31 Oct 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Investing in your MBA

Roundtable participants:

Samantha Bown, programme director, Executive Education, London Business School

(LP) Dr Lydia Price, professor of marketing, associate dean, academic director of MBA Programme, CEIBS, China

(SK) Shadi Kelly, MBA careers director, Ashridge Business School, UK

(KD) Koen Dewettinck, professor, Vlerick Leuven Management School, Belgium

(SJ) & (SC) Sarah Juillet, director of Postgraduate Careers & Steven Cousins, MBA recruitment and admissions manager, Cass Business School, UK

(KS) Dr Kerry Sullivan, MBA director, Surrey Business School, University of Surrey, UK

(VH) Professor Vivien Hodgson, chair of the Department for Management Learning & Leadership, Lancaster University Management School, UK

(DC) Daniel Celino, corporate business development manager, London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), UK

(AS) Professor. Amir Sharif, director of MBA Programmes, Brunel Business School, Brunel University, UK

(KP) Keith Porter, principal lecturer in HRM, Westminster Business School, UK

(TS) Tony Somers, director of the MBA Careers Management Center, HEC Paris, France

(SW) King's College London, UK

(JG) Jennifer George, associate professor, Deputy Dean Programs, Melbourne Business School, Australia

(CS) Christie St-John, Ph.D., senior associate director of admissions, Tuck School of Business, United States

(DVG) Professor Dr Désirée van Gorp, MBA program director and associate Dean, Nyenrode Business Universiteit, Netherlands

(IH) Iain Henderson, senior teaching fellow, Edinburgh Business School, Scotland

(CP) Chantal Poty, head of executive programmes, EML Executive Education, France

Other contributors:

Why invest in an MBA?

Samantha Bown, London Business School:
“Investing in your HR career through a training program, as Lynda Gratton, professor of management, states, will strengthen your ability to leverage culture, create integration and boost morale and allow you to make powerful representations to senior stakeholders.”

Dr Lydia Price, CEIBS, China:
"Without an MBA, professionals typically hit a ceiling in their abilities and potential for growth. Students apply for the CEIBS MBA when that ceiling becomes a barrier. For some it comes with a move into strategic positions that require financial skills and broad market understanding; for others it comes with a shift from an inside technical job to a client-facing job that requires communications skills and a strategic industry view; and for others it comes with growth in the number of subordinates they supervise."

Sarah Juillet, Cass Business School:
 "A management career is like any other profession and benefits from additional training and techniques which can be learnt and developed on an MBA. Not all the tools required to excel in a management career are intuitive and having access to leading academics and guest lecturers to learn from their many years’ experience, as well as exchanging ideas and networking with peers from many different countries and industries is an excellent way to develop a skills set which can apply to many roles."

Dr Kerry Sullivan, Surrey Business School, University of Surrey:
"Improving your human capital can only help your career. There is a long recognized relationship between educational level and long run economic return."

Professor Vivien Hodgson, Lancaster University Management School:
"For our graduates it was both important and obvious why one should invest in an HR career; as to have good HR is extremely important for any organization so to have well qualified and trained professionals helps the organization. Also considered important was to become someone who can actually make a difference in people’s (employees’) lives. Consequently it is not just an investment in one’s personal career but it’s also an investment for the organization that one works for. The investment also leads to enhanced self-esteem, confidence and satisfaction in achieving your goals – giving you a competitive edge in job markets."

Professor Amir Sharif, Brunel Business School, Brunel University:
"People, be they your superiors, colleagues, subordinates, clients or anyone else for that matter are seeking one thing more than ever from working professionals – commitment. In this complex, uncertain and ever-changing world any indication of stability and / or commitment is greatly valued. Investing in your HR career similarly requires a mixture of commitment, and understanding of how people work within organizations. HR professionals who take the time to develop their overall business, management and leadership knowledge will therefore be much better placed to deal with the challenges that lie ahead in all types of organization."

Keith Porter, Westminster Business School:
"Being professionally qualified gives you confidence when developing policy and advising managers on HR issues. It also confers credibility in the eyes of senior managers."

Stuart Woollard, King’s College:
"HR is notoriously bad at its own learning & development (L&D). Effective learning can help you to differentiate yourself as well as become more effective in your role, perhaps even taking you in a different direction. The best L&D will deliver new ideas and thinking but also new possibilities."

Christie St-John, Tuck School of Business:
"You've made a start already by learning a skill in every job you've had. The one degree that really is appropriate for everyone to do is the MBA. Why? Because business principles apply to everything we do, from non-profit organizations, small or large entrepreneurial ventures, and even medicine and law. Things are too complicated now: you need to know how to read a P&L (profit and loss) statement, to understand cross-cultural differences, not to mention all the technology that permeates everything. An MBA will give you a variety of answers that you can mould to your own needs. And most MBA programs provide 'life-long learning' for their alumni, so you'll keep up-to-date with what is happening.”

Iain Henderson, Edinburgh Business School:
"HR as a specialism is no different to any other in the modern marketplace. If you do not invest in yourself to continually develop then you will be competing for work with those who have chosen to do that investment. It’s about enlightened self-interest."

Chantal Poty, EML Executive Education:
"You should consider training as a gift you afford yourself, as training for an MBA will change part of your life by introducing you to new skills including leadership, new ways of thinking, self-awareness, and a new network of peers to turn to."

David Simmons, Cranfield School of Management:
In spite of all the hype, it is still true that people are a business’ greatest asset and every business has an interest in developing its people’s potential. Also we need to dispel this notion that education ends when we leave college. We go on learning throughout our life but this does not always need to be in a formal educational setting.

Claire Lecoq, IMD:
In today's competitive environment, if a professional does not at least stay at the top of his/her expertise, he/she will be very quickly by passed by younger professionals. As far as the MBA program is concerned, this particular training is also a way to widen your horizon to different functions and fields that you haven't touched before. The objective is for you to be able to understand a business at large and be able to play a leading role in the future.

Q. What's the payback?

Samantha Bown, London Business School:
“Our human resource strategy in transforming organizations programme and our other executive education programmes give our participants exposure to London Business School’s world-class thought leaders, up-to-date thinking and the latest academic research on subjects that will enable you to affect real change within your organization. Executive Education will help professionals reach their leadership potential and significantly contribute to their organization’s success. Past participants have told us attending the training course has lifted them from daily working and given them an injection of current thinking, energy and new challenges.”

Dr Lydia Price, CEIBS:
"General management MBA programs like the one at CEIBS are designed to prepare graduates for upper management and leadership by deepening their understanding of the entire organization and cultivating the soft skills needed to leverage that knowledge for business success. At CEIBS, we build on this by offering a unique value proposition of China Depth, Global Breadth.
"At a basic level we provide a sound business education that allows executives to grasp the opportunities and risks emerging from different parts of an organization. Consistent with our 'China Depth, Global Breadth' positioning, at CEIBS we also introduce the challenges of operating in the Chinese market as well as the challenges of taking Chinese firms global. In addition, we introduce global challenges of responsible leadership that arise from inter-related financial systems and threats to environmental sustainability. By cultivating a strategic, integrated view of business, strong analytic skills, and the cultural insights and communication skills needed to inspire and motivate others, we give our students the skills and capabilities to take on these challenges.

"By deepening their understanding of China we give them opportunities to participate in the fastest growing, and in many cases the largest, market in the world. China knowledge and networks are also valued by companies in all industries and all parts of the world today. There are both immediate and long run returns from investing in this type of MBA.

Immediate returns come from:

  • Salary increases
  • Opportunities to change job function or industry
  • Access to China’s job market for building a career.  

"Even greater returns come from opportunities for life long career growth and development. CEIBS graduates experience rapid career progress and widening job opportunities as their employers come to appreciate their full potential. By giving our students access to the upper ranges of management all over the world, we greatly increase their potential for long run financial gain, but most importantly, we open the doors to self-fulfilment that comes from choosing the career options that work best for them."  

Shadi Kelly, Ashridge Business School:
"The payback is a mix of technical knowledge of the various areas of business, as well as a great and rare opportunity for personal growth and development of professionals. This mix of acquiring technical business knowledge and personal development then puts Ashridge MBA graduates in a good position to make the career changes they have planned for post-MBA."

Koen Dewettinck, Vlerick Leuven Management School:
"People and companies have a need to develop and strengthen themselves, otherwise (and that’s especially true for companies), they don’t survive (competitive markets). Investing in employee development and strengthening employee competences is a practice that comes back in many of the so-called lists of best-practices of highly successful companies. The payback is more difficult to measure in bottom-line financial results, but for sure employee commitment, engagement and loyalty are boosted when people feel that they are working for a company that is supporting them (in their professional development). Thus, the real questions becomes: “Can we really consider training not to be an option?”"

Sarah Juillet, Cass Business School:
"Undertaking a Cass MBA not only allows an individual to learn from world class academics, it allows them to develop the soft skills necessary to really succeed in a challenging business environment. In addition to a traditional careers offering at Cass, we offer workshops in personal impact and personal branding, performing in teams, how to network for business success, how to identify and work with your strengths and weaknesses."

Dr Kerry Sullivan, Surrey Business School, University of Surrey:
"Research indicates that immediate financial return is only likely at the top major international schools like London Business School or INSEAD. The MBA badge will provide a lift to your career opportunities by adding to your previous experience. The strength of your CV to date will dictate how much economic value the qualification will add. Ultimately though, the MBA provides significantly value added; improved transferable skills, improved self-confidence, rise in personal efficacy and a strong network you grow will close to over the time of the course. These outcomes are difficult to measure and candidates need to make sure they talk to previous students and see if the learning experience on offer matches their expectations."

Professor Vivien Hodgson, Lancaster University Management School:
"Paybacks are many and varied and include personal, professional and practical gains. The things mentioned by our graduates included acquiring greater confidence, feelings of self-worth and motivation together with acquiring more critical and challenging ways of seeing and doing things and generally increased possibilities for developing their own practice, careers and seeking new opportunities for promotion or career changes etc."

Daniel Celino, London School of Business and Finance:
"For the entrepreneur or intrepreneur, constantly up-skilling and being able to understand the business environment and being able to demonstrate that knowledge is now paramount in order to develop your career. The HR specialist and the HR department have sometimes been seen as a separate, even inconvenient to the business, but legislative changes and better understanding means that most businesses now realise that HR is intrinsically linked to the growth and existence of any business. To ensure the HR specialist is giving the best advice they have to understand the organization and the environment they are working in. This will allow the company and the individual to flourish."

Professor. Amir Sharif, Brunel Business School, Brunel University:
"For many people seeking to climb the slippery pole of the corporate ladder, becoming a 'professional' in a firm will involve a lot of things, but primarily will involve the development and practice of management and leadership skills. These two words have been in and out of fashion in organizations for as long as they have been in existence, but the fact remains that in order to take your career to the next level you need to not only identify if you have these skills, but find opportunities to develop experiences in honing them – as well as supporting all such experiences with valuable recognition of your worth. This can mean of course ensuring you have a good professional profile and working relationship with others (your boss, colleagues, clients, suppliers and the wider business community). But more pertinently, may well be supported through training and development – especially where there is a recognized qualification that can be achieved (such as certified courses and programmes from chartered bodies, or academic qualifications such as an MBA).

"Contrary to popular belief, the payback for taking additional training and development – up to and including completing an MBA – is not necessarily immediate. By using a simple analogy: your experience, skills and existing qualification will get you to the door of your next career move, but a recognized management / leadership qualification will get to the room on the other side. As far as postgraduate qualifications such as MBAs are concerned, there are certainly many positive and legendary stories about stellar increases in salary well into the six figure salary bracket (particularly for those who get their degrees from the world’s top business schools, and most notably those who specialize in finance). However even receiving an MBA from a recognized and accredited business school can stand you in good stead with average salary increases in the last two years averaging between 35%-50% post-qualification across a wide range of salaries. So the prospects are good if you take the time to invest in your future."

Keith Porter, Westminster Business School:
"A CIPD accredited masters such as the Westminster MA in HRM is the career passport for HR professionals. It is a great investment as CIPD research has shown that the careers of professionally qualified people progress much further and faster."

Jennifer George, Melbourne Business School:
"If you have aspirations to lead, you should always be learning, and taking responsibility for creating the conditions that will bring this about. An immense amount of learning happens on the job. But the advantages of stepping out into formal education include access to cutting-edge ideas, insights based on solid and systematic research, and to people who will challenge you – your peers and faculty. You step outside your role, your habitual workaday persona, and try things out. An MBA will identify strengths that you may not have been aware of – and of course, expose your weaknesses in a setting where you have access to many tools, perspectives and feedback."

Christie St-John, Tuck School of Business:
"The biggest payback is that you will update your skill-set and 'recharge your batteries'. Just as technology changes from day-to-day, so do business practices, especially with more and more global business transactions and security issues. You will begin to look at your day-to-day tasks with new eyes in an effort to use other techniques and best practices."

Professor Dr Désirée van Gorp, Nyenrode Business Universiteit:
"HR professionals are serving their organizations in terms of making the corporate strategy work. They want their employees to be properly equipped in line with corporate as well as personal goals. Facilitating employees to develop themselves via executive education is highly valuable for individuals and organizations. At Nyenrode Business University people work on issues and cases drawn from their own practice and learn interactively through discussions with both peers and experts, which is brought back right into business. Our participants proudly report business results achieved after attending our executive programs. On the other hand our corporate clients realize that learning and development is one of the prerequisites of keeping their employees engaged and fully motivated."

Iain Henderson, Edinburgh Business School:
"The payback is being more effectively able to demonstrate business language in the wider sense rather than relying on the language of HR. If you are going to effectively engage as a partner with senior management in your organization you will need to speak to them in their language. The advantage of doing an Edinburgh Business School MBA is that you will understand the concepts and language of accounting, economics, finance, marketing, project management and strategic planning alongside the various HR practices that are grounded in the theories of organizational behaviour. There is also the opportunity to develop your MBA further with a specialism in HR. Senior managers are then more likely to see you as a credible partner in dealing with the strategic level decision making that forms a key part of their work."

HR payback Nick Holley

Nick Holley, director of The Henley Centre of HR Excellence, Henley Business School

Payback for an individual may mean a more senior role within the organization, more credibility, more ability to influence business decisions – ultimately a more fulfilling career. To achieve this, HR professionals need to equip themselves with the business skills they need to be credible at a senior level.

If you have no understanding of business it's vital to ensure you get it. You need to understand critical concepts such as cash flow, break even, fixed and variable costs, net and gross margins, net present value, PE ratios and shareholder value, etc. If any of these concepts either have no meaning, or even worse you see them as irrelevant to your role as an HR person, you really need to get real. Seek out programmes that will help you develop systemic ways of thinking: don’t think in a linear way but look at how the different elements of the business and the HR mix link together. Invest time in your own professional development, read around the subject, go to conferences, and reflect deeply on the nature of HR, the art, the craft and the science. It always impresses me when I work with HR people in Sub-Saharan Africa how many of them have not only undergraduate qualifications but also Masters degrees in HR-related subjects.

When working in an HR partnership role a lot of high potentials asked me how they could make partner. My answer was 'be one'. We never took a risk promoting someone to partnership unless they had been consistently displaying the skills and behaviours of a partner for several years. To get a seat at the table means behaving as a member of the top leadership team, focusing on the business issues not only from an HR perspective but also from a broader commercial perspective. In talking about his business partners one line manager said: 'I invite their opinion outside their domain, then it really clicks, they’re a well-rounded business professional whose opinion I value on all things'.

Some business schools offer scholarships or bursaries for MSc programmes, eg: Henley Business School offers an annual bursary in conjunction with The Daily Telegraph for the MSc in Coaching & Behavioural Change. Grants or bursaries for Executive Education are harder to come by but there may be government funded grants available – worth investigating through Business Link or organizations such as Skills South East Ltd.

If you are a UK resident, professional and career development loans are bank loans that can be used to help pay for work related learning. You can borrow between £300 and £10,000 to help support the cost of up to two years of learning (or three years if it includes one year's relevant unpaid practical work). The Learning and Skills Council will pay the interest on the loan while you are learning and for one month afterwards. The loan can be used to pay course fees or other costs such as travel and living expenses. You can also use the loan to supplement other forms of support such as grants or bursaries. Because the 'professional and career development loan' is a commercial loan product, they should only be considered as an option once all other student funding options have been investigated. For further information on financial assistance to support your learning, please visit or contact Careers Advice on 0800 100 900.

MBA graduate success story

Claire Beasley, joint MD of executive search consultancy court & spark consulting:

As a former director of Retail Personnel and Training at Arcadia, I was responsible for helping retail professionals develop their own skills and expertise. In 2003 I decided to focus on my own career development by enrolling on the Executive Full Time MBA programme at Henley Management College. The study programme helped broaden my commercial skills and acted as a catalyst for me to launch my own executive search business, court & spark consulting, in partnership with fellow retail professional Pauline Wood. Today I head up court & spark’s HR practice, carrying out executive search assignments to source senior HR professionals within the retail sector and beyond.

Many MBA course prospectuses focus on how an MBA can increase your earning potential, and while this can be true, HR professionals should equally recognise that the qualification delivers intangible benefits such as added credibility among colleagues and employers which can raise your profile and help you do your job more effectively.

HR to lead by example

HR professionals spend a lot of time helping other people to develop their skills, so it’s important that we lead by example and ensure that we continue to build our own knowledge. To be an effective HR professional you need to demonstrate good understanding across all business functions, understanding the different needs and commercial objectives whether you're supporting finance, marketing or operational divisions. In this respect an MBA provides comprehensive training to develop more rounded knowledge of the business landscape.

Securing investment do your homework

Pitching to your employer

Studying for an MBA represents a major investment in time and money so if you are looking to secure support from your employer you need to do your homework first. The starting point will be to carry out research into the range of courses that exist, including full time, modular and distance learning, and their associated costs. I recommend asking the business schools to provide evidence that illustrates how an MBA student can benefit the employer long term. 

Next, think about your pitch to your employer and highlight the advantages you will bring to the organization through the development of your skills. You’re asking your employer to make a major investment, so be prepared to be flexible around how the training might be carried out so you are not putting up further obstacles to a solution that works for everyone.


Redundancy is one of the most common ways that individuals fund MBAs and it’s a positive way to turn a negative situation to your advantage. Future employers will look favourably on candidates who have used the opportunity to invest in personal career development. Some business professionals can fund MBA study through securing paid consultancy projects which they can then use as a basis for MBA coursework assignments.

Choosing the right MBA

Consider your own unique set of circumstances and personal career objectives and then consider the course content, fees, location and structure that’s right for you. Many people overlook investigating what kind of student a course will typically attract but different courses may have a stronger bias towards a younger, or conversely more mature audience, or a higher mix of international or domestic students. For me personally, a key factor in selecting to study at Henley was due to the typical student group being similar to my own background and business experience. 

If your aim is to study at a top-flight school such as INSEAD or Harvard you would naturally expect to reap significant increased earning potential, but the financial commitment up-front is prohibitive and the selection process is challenging. The UK is home to a number of highly regarded business schools so students can benefit from high quality teaching without incurring significant cost which may take years to recoup.

There are different criteria for judging which schools are the best, but I recommend The Economist’s MBA rankings as a credible guide to UK business schools. If you’re considering an international course there is big variance in international rankings, so the best advice is to visit a few for yourself and form your own opinion. Some business schools will require you to take a GMAT test in advance, so this may prohibit you from securing a place on some courses if this is a requirement that you haven’t been able to meet.

HR credibility

An MBA gives you the credibility and confidence to act as a consultant to board level executives. You may find that you have acquired greater business strategy knowledge than the board members who consult you, and the MBA study process helps you to research and articulate strategic business advice in an effective way, which in turn further increases your credibility.

Competitive edge

The challenging economy has made the jobs market extremely competitive so a Master’s degree could provide you with the edge over your peers. In times of recession in particular, organizations are always looking for the best talent and an MBA qualification is still quite rare so I would encourage you to use the economic climate to your advantage.

Employer perspective: why invest in staff

Nick Barniville, director of MBA programmes, ESMT (European School of Management and Technology) in Berlin:

Use company sponsorship to develop executive talent and your organization:

  • The Executive MBA exposes your executives to a constant stream of new ideas and strategies. By combining initial management experience with a thorough grounding in business theory and fundamentals, EMBA participants develop a cross-functional managerial view which equips them to lead innovative organizational change in your company.
  • Sponsoring your employees to an EMBA program helps them to enhance their strategic leadership skills, take on broader responsibilities and drive performance throughout your organization more powerfully.
  • Investing in the professional development of your workforce creates loyalty and retains your top talent.
  • Company-related assignments, such as the in-program consulting projects, can address current issues within your organization and deliver applicable solutions to your company’s operations.

How your organization gains the most from sponsoring an Executive MBA program:

  • Prior to nominating candidates to an EMBA program, identify your high-potentials through a well-structured transparent internal selection process.
  • Clarify that the candidate’s individual goals are aligned with the company’s objectives, especially for the time after completion of the course. Tailored career development plans are instrumental in ensuring this match.
  • During the program, choose a consulting project topic that meets your organization’s interests and matches the mutual plans for the future for you and your organization.
  • Monitor your candidate’s academic progress on the basis of regularly submitted intermediate academic results and set up internal workshops or discussion groups through which your employee shares new insights with colleagues even before graduation.
  • Have your candidate sign a loyalty agreement specifying that he / she will continue to work for your organization for a certain period of time after completion of the program.

Value of an EMBA for you and your company:

  • You will acquire new management tools and a cross-functional corporate view enabling you to take a more objective and strategic approach to making decisions and to tackle broader responsibilities.
  • You will form an outstanding international network with high-potential executives from other industries.
  • You will enhance your team-working and communication skills as well as intercultural competence.

Mutual investment:

  • You can share the time investment with your company by contributing part of your vacation entitlement for attending the modules and accepting unpaid leave for time exceeding your holiday contingent.
  • If your company agrees to pay the program fee, you could cover all other expenses incurred, e.g. through a respective reduction of your salary. 
  • Sponsoring companies may settle the program fee in instalments.
  • Financial support can be linked to your submission of successful intermediate academic results.

Ensure a smooth process:

  • Make sure that you observe all internal and external deadlines and start planning well ahead.
  • Keep active personal relations to those who have the ability to influence your sponsorship decision.

Reinforce loyalty to your organization:

  • Setting up an agreement with your sponsoring company that you will continue working for them for a certain period of time after completing your studies signals your loyalty and enables them to reap maximum benefit from your increased employability.

Share knowledge

  • Even while you are a participant on the EMBA program, you can share your new insights with your colleagues through internal workshops to maximize the program impact.

Watch out for part two in June...

This is part one of four and has been taken from a guide ‘Why do an MBA – Your global MBA guide’. Find out your financial routes into studying for an MBA, how to research and work out which business school will work best for you, and how to build a business case to your employer and what the return on investments are.

Watch out for June printed issue for part two...