Where Entrepreneurship Goes to Die

That would be Wharton, according this current junior who blogs about his marketing class.

It’s always amusing to hear these kinds of war stories from undergrad students who have an interest in entrepreneurship and have to suffer through an environment designed for Excel junkies (oops — I mean investment bankers).

I have my own funny Wharton story. Last year some Wharton people came to pitch juniors at my high school on their undergrad business program. As a senior already committed to Claremont, I didn’t plan on attending, but our school college counselor, Jon, asked me to go and tell him what I thought of the presentation. So I did.

After the professor of marketing and admissions person finished their spiel to a captive audience of about 10 juniors, Jon asked me — in front of everyone else — what I thought. I had no idea he was going to put me on the spot. But I nevertheless shared my candid opinion: "I’m not a huge fan of undergrad business programs." I preceded to offer a quick explanation to the juniors in the room, the most important being, "Why study business when you can pick it up quickly in the school of hard knocks? Why not study Plato, as you need an expert to help you understand Plato? Study business in-depth in business school."

This, predictably, infuriated the Wharton people. I believe we got into some mild argument about whether it’s worth studying marketing "in theory" as a 19 or 20 year-old (I have no idea what a marketing textbook would contain, but I’m guessing a lot of colorful graphs). Anyway, soon enough the bell rang and everyone hustled out of the room.

I think undergrad business can work well for some people. I plan to visit many undergrad business programs in this spring. Especially in the areas of finance and accounting, getting a jump start on basic concepts can be helpful. But aspiring entrepreneurs must be aware that most of the undergrad business population may not be filled with entrepreneur-types as much as i-banking dreamers. And those two populations are not always peanut butter and jelly.

14 Responses to Where Entrepreneurship Goes to Die

  1. Patricia says:

    Amen to that. You are preaching to the choir. I unfortunately had to learn that after spending $160K.

    Warn the others before it’s too late!

  2. Joshua Horne says:

    Majoring in Business as an undergrad is like majoring in errands. Yes, you will have to do it, but it is not, I don’t think, for entrepreneurs. I got in to Wharton, and didn’t go. Thanks for the vote of confidence in agreement.

  3. Alan Wells says:

    Ben,
    As an undergrad at UC Davis about to finish up with school, I have to agree with you on this one. I enrolled in economics classes looking for answers about the business would and skills that would help me with entrepreneurship, and I found a lot of number crunching and equations and little practical advice. I’ve found a much more valuable experience as a design major, a major which permits me the freedom to pursue the things I find most interesting.

  4. Lindsay says:

    this post is just eight months too late for me. oh well, you live, you learn.

  5. Allen says:

    Hey Ben,

    I study Business with a focus on Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University, and I must say, I agree with you to a certain point. It is usually difficult to find people interested in entrepreneurship ventures. And as my school is quite known for quant, it is filled with I-banking dreamers and Wall Street enthusiasts. That may be the only characteristic of being an undergrad business school that I have found discouraging.

    However, I must say that I do not find undergrad business to be useless. I noted that you mentioned “why study undergrad when you could just study business in depth at business school?” And surely, plenty of people share this opinion. People love bashing on business majors, how we have no work, how we have easy classes, etc. If a business major were inclined to only do the bare minimum (go through classes, no extra curriculars), then I might agree slightly.

    However, there are recent business news that have been so inclined to claim that some undergrads are better trained than many MBAs, and for good reason. I have personally seen this with my own eyes, and have professors who work in their respective fields that would agree. Of course, on that note, I must go back to the whole “you get out what you put in” speech. I know plenty of people who are business majors who think their majors are useless. Then again, these are the same people who don’t bother to work too hard at it. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe.

    I have ended up viewing undergrad business as a way to learn the methodology of thinking and operating for practical business. A designer doesn’t have to go to design school to make things look good and make them useful, but without the methodology, there is no substance behind the “success”. And as you were the one who inspired me to read “Fooled by Randomness,” I’m sure you see the relevance of my pointing out that significance.

    As for your quip about marketing textbooks, I would say most of them just include the basic fundamentals of understanding. They aren’t very realistic, but without them, most people don’t have anywhere to start. With this, I apologize as I would like to include another almost cheesball metaphor (plus, you play basketball, like I do, so I’m sure you’ll understand this one too.) You learn how to make a basic layup having the leg on the side of the ball come up, and jump with the opposite foot. Yet, during in game situations, we know that this isn’t always going to happen (Dwyane Wade highlights, anyone?). People love to imitate the flashy moves, nobody pays attention to pure fundamentals. And we all know that the imitators are always the ones who think they’re great on the court, and the people who actually play with good fundamentals scoff at that notion. That’s how I see learning from a marketing textbook. Decent fundamentalists read it and follow strictly. Those who don’t may “make the basket”, but we all know they still suck. Great marketers read the book, keep it on a shelf somewhere, and in real world situations take it to the next level. The great marketer may never look like his methods came from a textbook, but he sure got to that level from somewhere.

    (And they say business school teaches you to write concisely?)

    Haha, sorry for the long post, but maybe you’ll respond to my e-mail?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Ben, this is a great post. I graduated from a very well known business school. From day one I didn’t fit in. I ended up being an entrepreneur. The rest of my classmates ended up being brand managers and i-bankers.

  7. Wendy says:

    Hi Ben,

    Wow! You’ve hit a key point about education and business. You’ll probably like this comment:

    My dad was/is a business school professor (economics ph.d. subsequently recruited by a business school). He always said that the people who were going to go out there and build a company worth $millions or $billions were not sitting in his classrooms — they were out there doing it. He was training people to come along and subsequently manage some aspect of those entrepreneurs’ firms later on. Business schools train middle managers or accountants — not creators.

    Wendy

  8. Dani says:

    I recently saw a stat that stated more Fortune 500 CEOs are engineers than any other training–including MBAs. Curious, but somewhat logical–an engineer with an entrepreneurial streak can probably create some neat new products/ideas.

  9. Deuce says:

    School creates workers and suites. Entrepreneurs hire workers and suites. I do suggest, however, to get a degree. I have one in Architecture and one in Urban Planning. While in these programs, I took my share of Business intros. Also, I took classes that intriqued me and opened my mind to what the world has to offer.

    College is 50% books and 50% social. Partying is fine, but the real social activity comes from the networks of people you meet.

    With these relationships, I have started three companies. They all failed, but they were great and we all learned a lot. Now, we continue to work together on our more succesful endeavors.

    So, I agree with what you are saying. But, let us not forget the important aspect of college – networking. What good is it to be an entrepreneur and be alone!

  10. Krishna says:

    “When you wanna shoot, shoot. Don’t talk” – says Ely Sallivas in “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. That was way back in the 70’s.

    You can’t learn swimming by sitting on the banks…need to get into the water.

    Theorists can generalize. And generalisations often mislead. A B-School is full of them.

    Entrepreneur who is basically a risk taker, can do without both. He is quick on the uptake and will learn from his mistakes. That’s what sets him apart. Look at Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Lakshmi Mittal…none of them chose to waste time & money at Wharton / Harvard. And they are far better off without it. Aren’t they…?

  11. Nathaniel says:

    Hey Ben,

    I love this post and the message. As recent graduate with a Political Science degree, I have started a web company. I work with, meet with, hang out with, business majors on a regular basis: they’re smart, innovative, great people. The downside? I can have a conversation about branding or positioning but not about Locke, Kant, or Rousseau.

    Their loss.

  12. Tim Taylor says:

    You won’t be surprised to hear that I think you are right on the money Ben.

  13. Jing says:

    Ben,

    I actually am in the same program as this Wharton & Engineering junior. In any case, I guess this shows once again that things taught in classrooms don’t always translate well into practice.

    Although putting a business plan or marketing pitch is a good learning experience in a classroom setting, it’s definitely not the same in the “real world” when the idea you are pitching is truly yours. There’s just not the same passion in the vision and work ethic going into the classroom presentation, making the quality even worse (on top of the fact that it’s never the same when you haven’t done it before yourself).

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