Career-Starting Tips: How is a Business Education Also an Education in Life?

Career-Starting Tips: How is a Business Education Also an Education in Life? (Podcast)
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At Grantham University, we believe in going the extra mile to help you prepare for a successful job hunt. Recently, two of our Career Services experts were joined by Grantham’s Dean of the Mark Skousen School of Business, Dr. David Marker, to discuss the history of the study of business and how a business degree can have a positive impact on your career and your life.

From the spice trade of Marco Polo’s time to the Fortune 500 companies of today, you would think that with a concept as huge and omnipresent as “business” would have been studied, codified and perfected down through the ages. That the lessons learned would be passed down from generation to generation in schools all over the world. That the history of business education would be as long and glorious as the subject itself.

And you’d be wrong.

“You might think business education has a long, long history,” says Dr. David Marker, Dean of the Mark Skousen School of Business at Grantham University.

“But it really doesn’t.”

Marker explains that before serious scholars began studying the concept, principles and mechanics of business, we were still trying to figure out how to organize people, resources and other things. Organizing “business” came later.

Then the Concept of Studying Business is a 20th Century Thing?

“Sometimes we think of Henry Ford as the inventor of some kind of major business practices,” says Marker. “What he did was he improved some, but he didn’t invent them.”

Julius Caesar, explains Marker, was a very good organizational theorist. His talent was knowing where to put people and how to use their unique skills. The whole idea of task-specialization is Roman. That part of understanding business is ancient, he concedes. It far preceded the insights of management and economic giants like Frederick Taylor who sought to apply science to the engineering of process around the turn of the 20th century (Taylorism) … or even Adam Smith, a Scottish economist from the 18th century.

“But the actual study of business came out of the Napoleonic era in early 19th Century,” says Marker.

Apparently, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, noticed that the universities of that time specialized in philosophy and religion—just concepts and ideas, primarily. He reasoned there was a need to develop people who could actually do things, too.

“And so business and engineering and medicine and lots of the professional schools were developed in the early 1800s based on that kind of idea,” says Marker. “And ESAP (Ecole Superieure des Acheteurs Professionnels) in Paris, where I’ve given talks, and still have good colleagues, is the oldest existing business school. It was established in 1819. The oldest business school in the United States is the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, established in 1891.”

Marker explains that the study of business really took off in the early 1900s with Taylorism. Then, during the two World Wars, the study of business entered a lull until there was an explosion of business schools and studies in the 1950s. Then, in 1968, the study of business really came into its own with the establishment of the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. And, later, Nobel Prize-winning economists and business professionals like Kenneth Arrow, Milton Friedman, Herbert Simon and Gary Becker all made their mark in the profession.

“I like Gary Becker,” says Marker. “He won his Nobel for his idea of human capital, and the importance of human capital instead of just monetary capital in a firm. He also wrote interesting papers on the value of a college education.”

What is the Value of a College Education?

“Becker looked at the question of the value of a college education,” says Marker. “Is it inherent in the college education itself? Or is it a signal that the graduate is willing to put up with all the hardships and the difficulties it takes to earn a college education? The funny thing was, his big study was indeterminable. He couldn’t tell. Many times it was considered a signal and many times it was because of the stuff you learn.”

The takeaway? In order to find good jobs, graduates need to understand that their college education will help them understand the vocabulary and the ideas behind business. But it is the company that will help graduates learn the tools to function within it.

“That organization is going to prepare you to be a part of them,” says Marker. “They’re going to make you a part of Apple. They’re going to make you a part of IBM. They’re going to make you part of Joe’s Really Good Insurance. Whatever you decide to work in.”

What the company will do is give you industry-specific knowledge. A good business education is the foundational knowledge that will help prepare you to successfully adapt to that industry-specific knowledge.

How Does a Business Education Prepare You for Life?

“I’m going to go back to the idea of developing all of your senses,” says Marker, referring to the topic discussed in ‘Career-Starting Tips: Why is Studying Business a Smart Career Move?’ He goes on to explain that there’s a lot of talk about being data driven.

“When we’re data driven,” Marker says, “we’re only using one sense. There’s this belief that everything we do is logical. That’s one of the problems we have with economists. Economists think that everyone acts rationally. To the economist, we might not know the rationale for why a person is acting a certain way, but it’s all rational.”

What a good business school background does is it helps the student develop every sense—not just ‘eyes, ears, taste, touch and smell.’ Not just the rational sense. Not just looking at data and saying, well the data says to do this.

But it’s also understanding that the data was developed in a particular context that is not necessarily reflected in the context currently observed. The data represent a sample of something that is not the whole.

“If we use something that is a measure of job satisfaction,” says Marker, “the measure of job satisfaction is not the same thing as job satisfaction. What you learn in business school is to sniff those kinds of things out so that you understand the entire context, you can get comfortable with the data.”

From increasing the price or buying in volume, just understanding the entire context of what is happening, where the business is and all the things that data cannot tell the business professional directly—that’s the value of a business education.

“I’ve been in hundreds of meetings with accountants who bring in balance sheets to tell us what/how the business is doing,” says Marker. “It tells us only one part of how the business is doing. It does not tell us the whole story. It might tell us a good story of how I should feel today and how my bank account’s doing, but it does not give us an accurate history of where we’ve been.

“Nor does it really give us a good idea of where we are going in and of itself. That’s why it’s important we understand all the parts of what’s going on with the business.”

You might want to be in finance. You might want to be in marketing. But none of those entities operate in a vacuum. They are all part of an interdependent system. To Marker, it’s important for all of his business students to develop those senses and understand how each part of a business activity helps organizations thrive.

Speaking of Senses, What About Theories Like Emotional Intelligence?

Apparently, these things run in cycles in the business world.

“Emotional Intelligence is not as cool to say as it was even five years ago,” says Marker, “because Emotional Intelligence has reached that 20-25 year range, and virtually every theory in business and organizations has a shelf life of around 20-30 years before people start to feel like it doesn’t apply anymore. It’s been critiqued.”

The idea behind Emotional Intelligence and much of what’s been written about it is extremely important. It captures the essence of being open to everything that’s going on around you as a business professional.

“I see so many people walking down the halls that have no idea about a person whose two feet away from them and have no sense of themselves or themselves in a particular situation,” says Marker. “Sometimes they operate as if they’re the only thing there. The fact is, you don’t know who’s about to turn a corner. That’s the fun thing, you don’t know. It could be an opportunity. It could be a threat. But having this background in studying business can help you develop that sense to note you should be looking for those things.”

And that’s a lesson that will live on through the ages.

Download Our Podcast

Now that you’ve gained some insight into why studying business is a savvy career move, take some time out of your day to listen in as Dr. Marker, Jeremy Bell, Associate Director of Talent Development and Career Services, and Doug Dimler, Career Services coordinator, continue to explore the many advantages of a business education.

About The Author

Brandon Swenson, communications manager, is on Grantham University’s editorial board. A veteran and college graduate himself, he understands the benefits and intricacies of government education programs, such as the post-9/11 GI Bill. Brandon earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City toward the end of his nearly two-decade tour in the United States Marine Corps.