Peter Thiel is Wrong About MBAs. Here’s Why.

Peter Thiel is Wrong About MBAs. Here’s Why.

BY ZUBIN DAVAR

Zubin Davar

Zubin Davar

I love Peter Thiel. And I love his polarizing approach to voicing opinion. However, in a recent Business Insider article Mr. Thiel expressed his disdain for hiring MBAs, characterizing them as sheep that act with “extremely herd-like thinking and behavior.”His point of view is strikingly narrow, and I expect better than sweeping generalities from such a well-educated and successful role model.

It’s a great time to be an MBA. We’re exploring a myriad of careers as illustrated by Anderson’s Parker Career Center’s industry summary. Outside of traditional options, MBAs are entering into sectors such as healthcare, energy, and the public sector, recognizing the nuanced opportunities to make a massive impact in these mature industries.

Representation of pre-MBA vs. post-MBA industries for UCLA Anderson graduates

Representation of pre-MBA vs. post-MBA industries for UCLA Anderson graduates

Take recent Anderson graduate Thomas de Fresart ’14, for example. After launching his cleantech start up, SolarWing, he decided to pursue his MBA. Leveraging his entrepreneurial experience and education he plans to “transform the electricity market, save consumers money, and reduce environmental impact” working at EDF Renewable Energy. Such pursuits are anything but sheep-like.

Additionally, Mr. Thiel’s claim is ironic because the MBA degree actually provides a broader range of career opportunities than any other graduate program. MBAs are, in part, seeking this breadth of opportunity in order to find their true career path and not become pigeonholed in unfulfilling or valueless careers.

The article goes on to portray MBAs, without substantiation, as people prone to groupthink. His statement is an antiquated, Enron-like perception of MBAs at best – or a typical, corporate culture write-off by the contrarian-minded Silicon Valley elite at worst.

Research from Ernst & Young, Harvard Business Review, and essentially all organizational behavior literature support diversity in teams to help reduce groupthink. With 37 countries, 171 undergraduate institutions, and practically every industry represented in Anderson’s Class of 2015, we are constantly bombarded by diverse points of view, cultures, and approaches to problem solving. If groupthink exists, it doesn’t stem from program culture.

This rich diversity of thought is unique to MBA environments. Higher education expands perspectives, it doesn’t put on cognitive blinders.

I see countless examples of how our MBAs think fearlessly. From trailblazing new start ups such as Vow to be Chic,Neural Analytics, and SmartestK12, to industry legends such as Sirius Satellite Radio and BlackRock, the history of entrepreneurship at UCLA, as well as at other top business schools, outshines Mr. Thiel’s narrow point of view.

The “high extrovert/low conviction” caricature Mr. Thiel crafts is not a familiar persona among the MBAs I know.

John Wooden Global Leadership Award Fellow, Elliot Ling ’14, spent his career serving low-income communities. Ling came to business school not with the allure of making money, but with a dream of developing the South LA inner city. To this extent, Ling and his wife welcomed into their own home a 16-year-old dropout who was in desperate need, helping the young man build a new future for his life. As Ling finds more success in his career he continues to embrace the notion of shared success and opens doors for others. Not much fluffy MBA extroversion going on there.

I actually agree with Mr. Thiel’s perspective on the suits; the “slick business folk compensating for crap products with well-dressed charm.” The world needs more characters, more idealists, and more genuine visionaries aiming to improve our society. That said, I find his outspoken attack hypocritical given his own professional background. After finishing law school Mr. Thiel spent three years trading derivatives for Credit Suisse and went on to found Thiel Capital Management, a multi-stage investment fund. I’m personally inspired by his career but when one puts that kind of time into a “tracked career” it’s hard to shake the impression of a pot calling the kettle black. (I also find it amusing Mr. Thiel is wearing a suit in the article’s cover photo, his Twitter profile photo, and his Facebook profile photo).

What’s truly concerning is Mr. Thiel taking such a limited approach to business. He’s carelessly cutting out top talent who have unbelievably interesting backgrounds matched by stratospheric achievement yet who are balanced by thoughtful humility.

We’re at an exciting point in the evolution of what the MBA degree represents and means for businesses.The value of our degree continues to rise, with the percentage of companies hiring MBAs jumping 30% over the past five years.  And 45% of those hiring companies are increasing base pay to MBAs in 2014, according to Poets & Quants. Those are pretty promising numbers, even to skeptical venture capitalists. Anderson welcomed an impressive new class this month and I can’t wait to work closely with them to prove Peter Thiel wrong.

And to Mr. Thiel: please accept my open invitation to visit Anderson and share more of your perspective with us. We always love a lively debate!

 

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