Move over MBAs…

Last week it was this “tweet” by Kenneth Cole.

kenneth cole

This week Groupon‘s Super Bowl ad.

Both went into immediate damage control. But it was Groupon CEO Andrew Mason’s “mea culpa” that grabbed my attention:

“I’ve been spending the day listening to the negative feedback about our Tibet Super Bowl commercial, and want to take a crack at explaining why we created this campaign…We take the causes we highlighted extremely seriously – that’s why we created this campaign in partnership with many hallmark community organizations, for whom we’re raising money at….The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers – it’s bad business and it’s not where our hearts are.”

Groupon created these ads with the organizations for whom they’re raising money?  Hmmm… I hope not.  But then again non-profits seem to be caught up in the cult of the all-knowing, all-efficient MBA.  Given the tremendous inefficiencies and waste in the field, that is understandable.  MBAs are needed to improve non-profit operations and systems.  But MBAs do not, as I note in this post, have no more a value add than a designer, artist, economist, sociologist, historian or mathematician.  They bring in a skill.  Skill without careful application, understanding or context is careless. The Kenneth Cole and Groupon examples speak to that.  And that is unfortunate.  Worse, it is unnecessary.

As much as a non-profit needs MBAs, the private sector needs do-gooders.  Those who have dedicated their lives to fighting poverty, human rights or global health bring a skill as well. More importantly, they bring in insight – insight that would have anticipated the gasps that Kenneth Cole and Groupon perhaps regret. Move over MBAs.. if Kenneth Cole and Groupon taught us anything this week, it’s that you need to learn something too.

(And take a crack at explaining it Andrew Mason? Really classy choice of words).

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 8, 2011 at 11:41 | Permalink

    GREAT post… but I’d go a step further. I think the notion that nonprofits need MBAs is out-dated. We’ve learned over and over that running nonprofits like private businesses (how MBAs are trained; in the private market) is not only unhelpful, but completely irrelevant (nonprofits operate in the realm of market failures, a thing MBA programs don’t touch). The nonprofit sector DOES need a forward-thinking, entrepreneurial mind-set in their leaders.

    The good news seems to be that we are breeding a new generation of leaders that is both entrepreneurial AND public service motivated. Hopefully in the future, the two sectors will thrive hand-in-hand. “Move over MBAs…” is right!

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