In an earlier post, we discussed whether an MBA has ever been worth the cost. You can read more about that here.
One of the key motivations for an MBA is that it is a "career accelerator". We operate under the assumption that the CEO ranks are composed entirely of former McKinsey, Bain and Deloitte consultants. But, according to Harvard Business Review, this isn't the truth.
In an article published last year, the authors cite a study (the interestingly named CEO Genome Project) that showed that only 24% of the CEOs studied have "elite MBAs". The underlying hypothesis was that the path to success is to land an elite MBA, climb the ladder and avoid risky moves.
In fact, the chief finding from the study is a profile called a "Sprinter".
Sprinters don’t accelerate to the top by acquiring the perfect pedigree. They do it by making bold career moves over the course of their career that catapult them to the top. We found that three types of career catapults were most common among the sprinters. Ninety-seven percent of them undertook at least one of these catapult experiences and close to 50% had at least two.
Hence, it is behavior- and risk- that determines trajectory. For example, 60% of Sprinters took a smaller role at some point in their career or moved to a smaller company for broader responsibilities. The article has a number of interesting case studies about people who took risk or were opportunistic even when trying new things was risky.
One other profile- inheriting a big mess. This is the example most closely aligned with the companies I've worked for. McKesson corporation experienced gross accounting scandal associated with the acquisition of HBOC, resulting in the removal of most of the C-level. The head of the pharmaceutical division and a recent hire, John Hammergren, was promoted to lead the company. During his tenure, the stock went from $14 to $252 (at peak). The lesson was that inheriting a mess and working through it, risking career and reputation, can often be the key to career growth.
My guess is that for every success story, there are dozens where taking risk blows up on people. There is comfort and security in playing it safe. But, for those who are willing to take risk, there may be ample rewards.
Jim is the CEO of i2g Consulting