Should You Get an MBA?

The pressure is on IT leaders to prove their business savvy, and job postings are asking for an MBA. Do you really need one to make it as a CIO? We asked two IT executives for help assembling arguments for and against pursuing the degree.

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Thu, July 05, 2007

CIO — To get an MBA or not to get an MBA—that is the question for many IT professionals today.

With all the weight companies are placing on needing business-savvy IT leaders, IT professionals who don't already have the prestigious degree are considering obtaining it.

"The emphasis on getting an MBA is even stronger today [than it was four years ago] because CIOs are that much more involved in strategy, business operations and business transformation," says Mark Polansky, North American managing director of executive search firm Korn Ferry’s IT Center of Expertise.

For proof of the increasing requirement that candidates for IT management positions possess advanced business degrees, consider the prerequisites for several positions advertised on CIO.com:

Requirements like those are creating anxiety for IT professionals, who worry that not having an MBA will eliminate them from job opportunities and severely limit their prospects for career growth. Of course, that concern is reason in and of itself to go for an MBA. But many IT professionals remain resistant because earning the degree requires so much time and money.

Recruiters such as Polansky and Carl Gilchrist, the North American leader of Spencer Stuart's Information Officers practice, say that having an MBA is a plus because it speaks to two of the top criteria for CIO positions today: leadership ability and business acumen. But they also say that not having an MBA won't necessarily eliminate you from a search.

Gilchrist says his firm can easily identify which CIOs in its CIO database have MBAs and which don't. "We do track. We do care, but it's not a knockout," he says. "There are plenty of great CIOs who don't have one," he says. (For a short list of high-profile CIOs who do and don't have their MBAs, see Top CIOs: Who Has an MBA and Who Doesn't. You may be surprised by who does and who doesn't.)

To help you figure out what's best for you, CIO.com invited two IT professionals to weigh in on the MBA debate—one on each side. Thomas MacKay, the assistant director of IT at Christopher Newport University, a small, private liberal arts school in Newport News, Va., represents the pro-MBA side of the coin. James Clark, the CTO of EpicTide, a provider of security software for the health-care industry, represents the opinions and concerns of the IT professionals who don't have their MBA.

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