The Art of Streetplay

Monday, August 08, 2005

Re: Phillymag's "Is Wharton Ruining American Business?"-- Show Me the Comparables!

While I don't typically blog about news articles, this one merits a few comments because it's a good example of un-reasoned analysis. It reminds me of Nassim Taleb's disdain for journalism in Fooled By Randomness (one can get a feel for this disdain here perhaps?). Seeing as I'm from Wharton, perhaps I'm a little biased :)

The essential premise of the article was that Wharton MBA's obtain less of an eduation and are of abnormally low moral stature (hence the title of the article, "Is Wharton Ruining American Business?").

A number of statistics were brought up without comparables, so there was little ability to really get a feel for their significance on Wharton in particular relative to the overall average, or to the Ivy League average, or to Harvard, for example.

For example the number of actual names brought up of convicted or somehow 'sleazy' executives was relatively small, all things considered. And yet the high profile name of a guy like Rigas or Milken generates so much emotion to some that they don't realize that these people represent a small proportion of the overall Wharton population. How can one create a reasonable comparison across schools?

What I won't say is that all the points given in the article should be dismissed as one sided. That being said, the analysis is incomplete. If the author is going to say that Wharton's total applicant size has dropped 21%, it might be helpful to know what the comparable average was for other schools. It might be helpful to realize, for example, that business school applicant size is inversely related to the state of our economy (for example, the applicant pool for all schools was at record highs when the economy tanked). Overall, 2004 was a pretty good year. And $31.25 per hour at some pub for a handful of hours leading to a comparison to Grasso's $185M retirement package seems overblown.

Well reasoned articles are hard to come by. While I agree that ethics is something to keep a close eye on, and may be something that we should devote more money, time and effort towards, movement in that direction must start with rational, reasoned points that convincingly point to Wharton underperformance, and I don't see that type of analysis in this article. "A problem well specified is a problem half solved."

If Maureen is going to criticize Wharton in particular and not MBA's in general, I only see half the story.

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5 Comments:

  • You made very good points here...
    Interesting subject.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:17 PM  

  • I haven't read the article yet, but I suspect it is another example of lazy journalism. Is this the start of a trend in Wharton-bashing (viz. 'The Running of the Bulls', a new book by Nicole Ridgway)? You're correct that Taleb is generally disdainful of journalists... but also of B-School graduates (despite the fact that he is a Wharton MBA - self-redemption came at the cost of a doctorate).

    By Blogger Value Guy, at 8:46 AM  

  • It sure seems that way. Although I too will admit that in many ways Wharton is indeed a vocational school. Only in Wharton will you see as many Finance majors as there are now. It's sad really that so many are going into a profession they couldn't care about less. I hope that my interest in Finance is a little more than purely superficial, but I'm throwing on Statistics and Systems Science Engineering just in case :)

    Yeah, that was ironic for Taleb. It's also ironic that no matter how disdainful he may be of business in general, he's the one at the helm of a hedge fund.

    By Blogger Dan McCarthy, at 4:20 PM  

  • Actually, Nicole Ridgway's "The Running of the Bulls" is by no means an example of "Wharton bashing." It's an honest and sympathetic account of what people go through when they choose that line of education.

    By Blogger Mike M., at 7:31 PM  

  • Hi Mike,
    I'll make sure to read the book before making passing judgement on it.

    By Blogger Dan McCarthy, at 7:40 PM  

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