The evening before he was interviewed for Chief Executive, Hal Rosenbluth was having dinner with a senior executive of one of the country’s largest investment banks. When the subject of this interview came up, the executive mentioned that he had an MBA. “What did it get you?” asked Rosenbluth, the chairman and CEO of Rosenbluth International, a travel management company with more than $4 billion in annual bookings. “A job,” he replied. “I would not have gotten a job if I didn’t have an MBA.”
More and more CEOs are coming into the corner office with an MBA as part of their portfolio. Yet more than 60 percent still feel that the degree is unnecessary and, in some cases, even a detriment. Rosenbluth, 48, is one of them.
If you look at my job, I’m the least qualified person to work in headquarters. Everyone else on the senior level is phenomenal. And I love it. Not having an MBA helps you reach out to others who have skills you know you don’t have. I get excited watching somebody come up with an answer to some challenge and a lot of times, the answer comes from people who have that MBA background. I can take the statistics that they come in with and say, “Quantitatively, that makes a lot of sense, but it won’t work in the marketplace” or “That’s just the right thing we’ve been looking for, the one piece of information we needed.” Having started at the lowest levels and worked my way throughout the company, I understand which tactics work and which don’t.
Now you have to understand I didn’t want to join the company; I wanted to be a criminologist. I joined the company because I saw my father getting sick from overwork. It was my love for him, not for the company, that caused me to join. My first two jobs were stamping brochures and taking the cash deposits to the bank across the street, because they didn’t want anyone in bookkeeping to lose productivity while waiting in the teller’s line. I didn’t mind doing that because I didn’t want to come in as the boss’ son. I didn’t want any responsibility because I didn’t know anything at the time.
I think my background in criminology helped me in business because I learned about human behavior and behavioral sciences. If it’s true, and I believe it is, that people are a company’s most precious asset, then you have to understand people. You have to know them inside and out.
I know when to make decisions and when to leave them to other people. One of my better skills which I wouldn’t have learned in school is when to recognize that you don’t know what you don’t know. I have reached that level of incompetence where I can look at what I don’t know, and what I don’t feel comfortable being the best at, and surround myself with people who are the best at filling those gaps.
If I had an MBA, I’d have certain talents I don’t have now. I’d be able to do statistical modeling. I’d be able to do quantitative analysis. But those aren’t that important to me. In fact, they might be a hindrance, because they would take away from my gut instincts. My body talks to me. It literally shakes. I know when we’re going to lose a business or when we’re going to be successful in an acquisition even before we start. The fact that I’ve met the people first tells me the outcome, because at the end of the day decisions are made by people.
Certain things an MBA doesn’t teach you are critical in business. Like passion. I’ve never seen a course on passion. I’ve never seen a course on instinct. Where is there a course on being a good person?
I have all the admiration in the world for MBAs because they put up with two more years of college. I could never have done that. I would have died.