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PhD in business - how to get there

rockofellerrockofeller Posts: 244Registered User Junior Member
edited May 2008 in Business School - MBA
Hey all,
I have been accepted to a couple of graduate programs, namely MS Finance at Wash U (Olin School of Business) and MSc in Economic History at London School of Economics. I will not hear from Oxford's MSc in Financial Economics until the end of June, but that is my first choice program. Considering my long-term goals: PhD in business, becoming an associate(eventually partner) at a VC firm, should I:
a) get the MS Finance and then go straight to banking/PE
b) get the MSc Economic History then apply again to MS Finance then work in banking/PE and apply to PhD later
c) get the MSc Economic History then work in banking/PE and apply to PhD later
or d) get the MSc Economic History then apply straight to the PhD

How will my chances look for Stanford/top 5 Business PhD's under these various degrees. Will work experience signficantly alter my chances after these degrees?
My GMAT is 720 (though my practice tests suggest I should retake to get 750-770). My college GPA is approx 3.75 at Emory University, with a Bachelors in History. My math background takes me through differential equations. My extracurriculars are very good. Thank you guys!
Post edited by rockofeller on

Replies to: PhD in business - how to get there

  • tetrisheadtetrishead Posts: 502Registered User Member
    ...

    PhD in Business = business school professor, or theorist/author. You get a masters degree and work. Work experience >>>>>>>>>>> doctorate.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    Considering my long-term goals: PhD in business, becoming an associate(eventually partner) at a VC firm

    Let me stop you right there, for I see 2 major flaws in your logic. First off, as tetrishead said, getting a PhD in business prepares you, first and foremost, for becoming a business school professor and theorist. In fact, that should really be the only reason why one should pursue it. I can't think of a single prominent venture capitalist that has a PhD in business. In fact, if you don't actually love theory - that is to say, reading and writing scores of journal articles - not only is it unlikely that you will even finish the PhD, it is questionable whether you'll even pass the qualifying exams to officially transition to PhD candidacy status.

    Secondly, becoming a VC associate is (ironically) not a great way to become a partner. If you don't believe that, then pull up the partner bios of any of the prominent VC's and count how many of the partners were actually promoted from the associate ranks. I'm going to go with zero, and I think I'm going to be pretty close to the mark. The truth is, VC firms rarely if ever choose partners that way. Most partners are formerly highly successful entrepreneurs, highly successful general managers at prominent (usually tech) firms, or directors/principals at investment banks or major consulting firms.

    Now, to be sure, being a VC associate may help you to eventually obtain one of those jobs. But the point is, there is no direct path from being associate to partner.
    How will my chances look for Stanford/top 5 Business PhD's under these various degrees.

    What I said above is especially true regarding Stanford GSB, for Stanford (along with MIT Sloan) runs arguably the most theoretical PhD program of all of the business schools, and hence is arguably the worst fit of all if you actually intend to enter industry.

    Personally, I think you would be far better off in getting an MBA, or if you can't do that right now, then just getting some work experience and then getting an MBA. That would give you a far clearer shot at what you want to do.
  • tetrisheadtetrishead Posts: 502Registered User Member
    Personally, I think you would be far better off in getting an MBA, or if you can't do that right now, then just getting some work experience and then getting an MBA. That would give you a far clearer shot at what you want to do.
    Going to Oxford for the MSc and working in banking or consulting in another country really isn't a bad idea if he wants to move into VC at some point or another, as it's something on a resume other people won't have and he can BS some line about having a greater understanding of European product deployment and development than a normal candidate. It also puts him in a position to go banking in Europe -> CFO for a start-up (keeping in mind that money won't be plentiful) -> one or two good job performances even at companies that fail -> VC.

    VC is the field I can think of where the people with seniority have the freest hand to basically invest as they please. With that comes significantly more risk, as you can't spread the effect of the hit amongst a team or "division." Most Valley VCs (it's different in other industries, I'm sure) have surprisingly weak backgrounds from everything I've seen, and someone coming in with years of work in finance in Europe is a hell of a resume booster amongst the throngs of "innovators."
  • rockofellerrockofeller Posts: 244Registered User Junior Member
    Well, to make this clear: I would like to get a PhD in Business for personal interest. It seems to me that in hiring, no one will frown upon a PhD in business from a top school, and so given the choice of the PhD or of the MBA as a career stepping stone, I'll take the PhD, thank you very much. I can also see myself retiring from full time work so that I can take a position as a part-time lecturer at a university while potentially still doing some angel investing.
    I know that associate is not a guaranteed way into VC, but I think that VC associate is better than IBanking analyst/associate as far as relevant work experience when being considered for a VC position, not to mention the networking opportunities. But that is somewhat inconsequential. What matters is, is there value in earning two masters degrees before entering the working world (with an eye to VC) or in applying to PhD programs?
  • tetrisheadtetrishead Posts: 502Registered User Member
    I would like to get a PhD in Business for personal interest.
    Because you enjoy theory, yes?
    It seems to me that in hiring, no one will frown upon a PhD in business from a top school
    You'd be surprised.
    so given the choice of the PhD or of the MBA as a career stepping stone, I'll take the PhD, thank you very much
    If you enter as a PhD "track" student the curriculum you explore will be much different I gather, as research is going to be a heavy component, resulting in you receiving an education that is less applicable to work in industry than an MBA student.
    I know that associate is not a guaranteed way into VC, but I think that VC associate is better than IBanking analyst/associate as far as relevant work experience when being considered for a VC position, not to mention the networking opportunities. But that is somewhat inconsequential.
    I actually kind of disagree here. Having VC experience isn't really something that's going to get you into the C-level of a start-up, but having a keen understanding of finance and management (if you did go into consulting) and being the "adult" will--and then, having worked in a start-up and having been successful, you've taken the best and easiest path into a senority position in VC. This is obviously a longer path than going straight into VC, but I'd suspect it gives you better chances.
    What matters is, is there value in earning two masters degrees before entering the working world (with an eye to VC) or in applying to PhD programs?
    You like degrees, don'tcha?
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    It seems to me that in hiring, no one will frown upon a PhD in business from a top school, and so given the choice of the PhD or of the MBA as a career stepping stone, I'll take the PhD, thank you very much

    Oh yes, they definitely will frown upon it. If you don't believe me, I would advise you to talk to current business PhD students or program heads, and they will surely all tell you a PhD is a poor move if you want to enter industry. The very first question employers will think is, if you wanted to be a practitioner, why did you choose the path of an academic? That will inevitably open the door to further uncomfortable questions such as, perhaps you're now trying to get an industry job after you graduate because you simply weren't good enough to get an academic placement, which will make them wonder why they should now hire you. Then there is the persistent question that perhaps you are simply too theoretically minded and not sufficiently willing to get your hands dirty in the real world.

    But of course the biggest problem of all is obviously that private-sector employers won't even give you the chance to answer these questions, but will instead make their own determination to simply not grant an interview in the first place. After all, since you said you wanted to work in VC, trust me, VC partners at the top firms (and there is little point in joining a mediocre VC firm) are constantly deluged with requests for interviews. Why should they spend time interviewing you when they can instead interview somebody else (i.e. an MBA student) who doesn't have those potential problems?

    But even all of that is neither here nor there, because we haven't even discussed what I view as the biggest problem of all: whether you can actually hack the PhD lifestyle. As I said above, plenty of people who enter business PhD programs never finish, and a significant fraction of them won't even pass their qualifying exams. You actually have to enjoy reading and writing a lot of academic articles, and embarking on a lifestyle of research in order to have a chance at finishing. Nor is performing that research any guarantee: some people simply have the bad luck of choosing a research project that fails (i.e. can't get the data they need, or if they do, can't discover any important and statistically significant findings, or even if they do that, can't establish causation or otherwise can't inform theory), and so they can't graduate. And even those that do finish can take 7 years or more to do so. I see nothing to gain and simply a lot of unnecessary pain in joining a business PhD program if you don't actually enjoy the lifestyle of research.

    Contrast that with the MBA which - at any reputable program - basically, everybody is going to graduate. As long as you put in a bare minimum of effort, you know you're going to graduate. Maybe not with top grades, but you will pass and you will graduate. You don't have the large fractions of MBA students who are unable to finish their programs the way you do with PhD students.
    I can also see myself retiring from full time work so that I can take a position as a part-time lecturer at a university while potentially still doing some angel investing.

    If you want to be a part-time lecturer, you don't need a PhD for that, because being a lecturer means you won't be doing research anyway.

    Don't believe me? Then consider Bob Huggins, part-time lecturer at HBS and GP/founder of Highland Capital Partners. He doesn't have a PhD. The highest degree he has is a HBS MBA.

    Biography - Robert F. Higgins

    Or consider Ray Gilmartin. He's actually not part-time, he's actually a full Professor at HBS. Again, he doesn't have a PhD in business. His highest degree is a Harvard MBA. Of course, it clearly didn't hurt that he was the former President, CEO and Chairman of Merck.

    Biography - Raymond V. Gilmartin
    Going to Oxford for the MSc and working in banking or consulting in another country really isn't a bad idea if he wants to move into VC at some point or another, as it's something on a resume other people won't have and he can BS some line about having a greater understanding of European product deployment and development than a normal candidate.

    I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, but I am comparing it to what his likely competition is going to be. Let's face it, the competition for spots at the top VC firms (and there is little point in joining a mediocre VC firm) is absolutely fierce, and is heavily dominated by MBA grads mostly from HBS and Stanford, and to some extent Wharton and MITSloan. It's hard for me to see how having a MSc from Oxford would provide an advantage over somebody with those other credentials.
    If you enter as a PhD "track" student the curriculum you explore will be much different I gather, as research is going to be a heavy component, resulting in you receiving an education that is less applicable to work in industry than an MBA student.

    Research isn't just a 'heavy' component, in fact, it is almost exclusively the component. That, and, like I said, reading and critiquing other people's papers, an activity which I also consider to be a part of research.

    I agree with you that a PhD in business is less applicable - in fact far less applicable - than is an MBA if you want to be a practitioner. Researchers care about building theory and will spend their time - in fact, to an obsessive level- in trying to find out why something works the way it does, and which academic literature their research findings will inform. Practitioners don't really care why something works; all they really care about is finding something that works. And, truth be told, much (in fact, I would argue, the vast majority) of business academia is, ironically, not relevant to real-world business; a point that has also been made famously by numerous academics such as Jeffrey Pfeffer and Rakesh Khurana.
  • tetrisheadtetrishead Posts: 502Registered User Member
    I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, but I am comparing it to what his likely competition is going to be. Let's face it, the competition for spots at the top VC firms (and there is little point in joining a mediocre VC firm) is absolutely fierce, and is heavily dominated by MBA grads mostly from HBS and Stanford, and to some extent Wharton and MITSloan. It's hard for me to see how having a MSc from Oxford would provide an advantage over somebody with those other credentials.
    I have to admit that I'm thinking almost entirely about Valley and technology VC when I talk about VC. In the context of what I'm talking about, I honestly believe a lateral transition to a senior position at a VC firm from another industry and a comparable place of seniority is a lot easier than a vertical climb from within a VC firm (something you said above).

    I absolutely agree that the best way to get into VC and get a tremendous amount of leeway (and to oftentimes start your own fund) is to be a previously successful entrepreneur. Not having a VC background, but having a background in finance or management will make it easier for someone to get into an executive position at a start-up (getting a respectable MBA could be the excuse to make the transition to the new industry), and making the transition from that to VC is, in my mind, the path of least resistance.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    I have to admit that I'm thinking almost entirely about Valley and technology VC when I talk about VC. In the context of what I'm talking about, I honestly believe a lateral transition to a senior position at a VC firm from another industry and a comparable place of seniority is a lot easier than a vertical climb from within a VC firm (something you said above).

    I absolutely agree that the best way to get into VC and get a tremendous amount of leeway (and to oftentimes start your own fund) is to be a previously successful entrepreneur. Not having a VC background, but having a background in finance or management will make it easier for someone to get into an executive position at a start-up (getting a respectable MBA could be the excuse to make the transition to the new industry), and making the transition from that to VC is, in my mind, the path of least resistance.

    I agree completely. The only thing I would add is that outside of the Valley, a common path to becoming a VC partner is to reach a high level (i.e. Director) at an Ibank. That's because non-Valley VC's are often times more interested and more knowledgeable about the financial aspects of the deal rather than the technology itself and hence are looking for stud financial negotiators. The problem with joining VC as an analyst is that there is no Director-level equivalent, and hence no career ladder for you to climb. As you said, there are analysts and then there are partners with no steps in between them and hence no career ladder for you to climb.
    It seems to me that in hiring, no one will frown upon a PhD in business from a top school, and so given the choice of the PhD or of the MBA as a career stepping stone, I'll take the PhD, thank you very much

    I personally find this statement to be most disturbing, and precisely why I think the proposed strategy is a terrible one, for the fact is, a PhD is not something that you simply "take". I believe the statistics show that, as I alluded to before, well over half of all incoming business PhD students will never actually finish the program. This shouldn't be terribly surprising as over half of all PhD students in any discipline will not actually finish.

    Now, to be fair, some of that dropout is voluntary. Some people decide that they just don't like the lifestyle or that it takes too much time and so they'd rather do other things. But that only reinforces the point that an MBA is a far surer shot. Just because you get into a PhD program doesn't mean that you are actually likely to "take" the PhD. Far from it in fact. But an MBA really is something that you could "take" because practically everybody who enters the program will not only graduate, but do so on time (that is, in 2 years), whereas a PhD can easily take you 6+ years. You just don't know. Heck, I know people who are in the 6th year in their business PhD program and still aren't close to graduating.
  • rockofellerrockofeller Posts: 244Registered User Junior Member
    Interesting - of course, the well-known rarity of finishing the program and the difficulty of getting in would suggest that the degree is esteemed more highly than a 2-yr MBA. I personally know an executive with a Stanfrod GSB PhD who tells me he feels it has worked to his great advantage in the business world.
    To the more pressing question - if you wanted a career in PE (possibly starting in banking) would it be better if you had an economic history degree from LSE or a MS Finance from Wash U in St. Louis?
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    Interesting - of course, the well-known rarity of finishing the program and the difficulty of getting in would suggest that the degree is esteemed more highly than a 2-yr MBA.

    To the point regarding the relevance of the difficulty of getting in: I'm not sure that that's really true. The 'problem' of business PhD admissions is that they admit plenty of people who have precisely zero work experience, that is to say, right out of undergrad. Heck, there are plenty of business school professors who have never actually held a real job in their lives. Business PhD programs admit people mostly for their theoretical potential, not whether they have actually demonstrated any real-world practitioner's potential.

    But of course all of that predicates that employers actually value difficulty in the first place, and the truth is, they don't. As a case in point, it is extremely difficult to get a PhD in engineering or science from MIT - in fact, far far more difficult than getting an MBA from MIT - but that hardly means that employers value the engineering/physics PhD more. In fact, the opposite is true.

    Now, of course, one might argue that that's because the science/eng PhD guy is not learning much that is relevant to practical business, but that's precisely the point. Similarly, the business PhD guy is also not really learning much that is relevant to business. He's learning things like how to construct theory and how to frame his findings within the established literature, but that doesn't help you in the world of business. Nobody cares about topics like New Institutionalism or Resource Dependence Theory or Bounded Rationality in the real world and nobody cares that you can recite all sorts of references to all sorts of academic papers that nobody outside of academia has ever heard of. But that's precisely what you will have to do in a business PhD program.
    I personally know an executive with a Stanfrod GSB PhD who tells me he feels it has worked to his great advantage in the business world.

    I have two responses to that. #1 - at least he finished the program. Like I said, plenty of people don't. How do you think they feel regarding the value of the program?

    Secondly, nobody is disputing that there is some value to the program. The question is what the value is relative to an MBA. The truth is, a business PhD loses quite badly to an MBA when it comes to practical relevance and the sureness of actually graduating.
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