The Enigmatic Elon Musk On MBAs

Does Elon Musk have an MBA? No.

Is Elon Musk sceptical of MBA’s? Yes.

Should you be sceptical of MBA’s? Of course, but perhaps you might not be as sceptical as Elon! Is the glass half empty or half full?

Imagine a world where all you had to do was obtain an MBA, and thereafter you would be rich, famous, attending the Cannes Film Festival each year to get a healthy dose of culture and just generally considered an absolute legend by all people on planet earth.

Does this sound slightly too easy? Yes, it certainly is.

The world in which we live is much more complicated than that. A problem is that many (most) business school brochures paint the picture of ‘spend $100k with us today on a qualification and network and tomorrow (upon graduation) you will be rich and famous’. This is very unlikely to be the case.

So, what does Elon have about to say this qualification?

In a 2013 interview (here), he suggested of MBA’s:

“It teaches people all sorts of wrong things. They don’t teach people to think in MBA schools. And the top MBA schools are the worst.  Because they actually teach people that you must be special, and it causes people to close down their feedback loop and not rigorously examine when they are wrong.”

Fast-forwarding to another interview in 2020 as the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Summit (here, from 1:14 min), Elon suggests one of the issues with corporate America is the MBA:

“I think that there might be too many MBAs running companies … There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time on board meetings, less time on financials.”

As you might expect, business school leaders rose quickly to the defence of the MBA and the qualification’s focus on more progressive courses on product development, customer engagement, entrepreneurialism and the like (here).

What might this mean for you?

  • Learning how to think is mission-critical to your growth, personally and professionally.
  • Be aware of the counterargument. Elon presents a compelling thought as to why an MBA may not be valuable, and regardless of your choice to MBA or not MBA it is always useful to understand the counterargument (Elon will be very far from alone with this view).
  • In a similar spirit to Elon’s suggestion to spend more time out on the factory floor than in the boardroom, perhaps go and talk to ‘successful’ people who have an MBA and do not have an MBA. You might find that whilst a single qualification may separate them, what likely unites them in their success is their ability to think, be unique, be original and the like.

That philosophy degree may never have looked so attractive. Until next time.

Paul Somers
Paul holds an Executive MBA from IE Brown, and has led the MQBS Postgraduate Careers Service’s innovative, entrepreneurial and engaged team since 2020. He has worked at several leading global organisations - both public and private value oriented - domestically and internationally.