A Fine Balance

CPAs are back in vogue, but don't forget the MBA. Skills and experience in both accounting and finance are best for a full career.

Some schools offer dual degrees. Mt Eliza has a tie-up with CPA Australia, the country’s largest accounting institute, on a CPA-MBA qualification, although this program is under review with the ongoing merger with Melbourne Business School. Curtin University has a similar dual degree. The participant, who must have at least two years relevant work experience, first completes six 12-week courses at CPA Australia. He or she then proceeds to a partner business school, which counts the CPA courses as MBA credits. The participant needs to complete only seven to ten more courses (compared with the usual 18 to 22) to earn an MBA. Over at HKUST, MBA students can opt to take additional units in the Master of Science in Financial Analysis program and graduate with both an MBA and an MSc in three years.

What about a chartered accountant who has more than ten years of managerial work experience? “We would strongly encourage him or her to do an executive MBA,” says Ho Yew Kee, MBA academic co-director at NUS Business School. “The regular MBA is more for mid-executives with about four to six years of working experience.” An executive MBA program is typically held on weekends and features residential workshops. The 16-month program at HKUST, a partnership with Kellogg Business School, meets on Friday afternoons and weekends, with a live-in week at the Kellogg’s Illinois campus in the US and another week at HKUST in Hong Kong.

Other high profile executive MBA programs include those offered by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in Singapore and by Canada’s Richard Ivey School of Business in Hong Kong.

Which School?

Nagpal, the Avnet CFO considering an executive MBA, says he is looking at schools with “brand equity”. After all, he is not only enhancing his CFO skills, but also positioning himself for a higher post. Like it or not, a school that regularly features in the top ranks of various surveys enjoys top-of-mind recall among selection committees and recruiters. All things being equal, someone with an MBA from Harvard is more likely to make it to a short list than someone from a school with a much lower profile. Never mind that MBA rankings by Business Week, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and other publications often come up with divergent results.

The Graduate Council’s Wilson, who is a CPA, a chartered accountant in Canada, and an MBA who taught at Harvard, says a better gauge of a school’s quality is to see which ones regularly attract corporate recruiters (for a selective list, see “Follow That Recruiter!” at the end of this article). “I can tell you from experience as well as our own research that there are many schools that never appear on any of the rankings that have great reputations in the eyes of recruiters,” he says. “At Ernst & Young (where he was a managing partner), we didn’t go to schools that people thought were great because the students we got there did not perform, did not want to work, did not get promoted.”


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