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Procurement Perspectives Podcast: Procurement Career Development - Is MBA vs. Certification a False Choice?

Procurement Perspectives Podcast: Procurement Career Development - Is MBA vs. Certification a False Choice?

This week our audio comes from a Financial Times conversation with Ian Clark, Dean of the University of Edinburgh Business School.

The core question behind their conversation is whether MBA programs provide professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to have competitive careers in today’s business environment. The full video is available on YouTube.

You can listen to the podcast on the PI Window on Business Blog Talk Radio channel.


I found it particularly interesting that interviewer Della Bradshaw made a comment about business school teaching as being 'too technical.' That is a concern that we usually see reserved for certification programs – at least in the procurement field. The question is usually whether procurement practitioners get more value out of graduate school or certifications. B-school is more general, but traditionally comes with high regard. Certification programs are procurement-specific but may not match the processes in place where you work. Making the right decision where to invest your time and resources is not an easy one: certification or MBA? MBA or certification?

I’m starting to think that this is a false choice – meaning that the choice in this case isn’t either/or. There are a lot of other options, and none of them is about the degree or certification but what they empower the professional to accomplish.

Last week I shared my notes from a Supply Chain Insights panel webinar on talent and taking control of your career. Both panelists, one from P&G and one from IBM, were asked about the perceived value of a certification from one of the leading supply chain associations. Both had pretty much the same answer – the certification is nice, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot to the organization by itself.

What is important about whatever kind of self-improvement investment you decide to make, is that it enables you to accomplish the things that align with your vision for your professional development. Not what job you think you want, because that is too limiting, but what you aspire to. If you look at the gap between what you want to do and what you are currently suited for and decide that a certification program is the best way to close that gap – great. Go for it. Likewise with the MBA. But don’t expect your employer to reward you just for finishing whatever program you choose.

In fact, if you flaunt your newly earned post-name acronym without having much in the way of results to show from it, you actually risk diminishing your credibility. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take traditional routes to improve our capabilities. Of course we should. But the focus can’t be on the investment – it has to be on the return.

And what enterprises want to see in their up and coming leaders is a broad combination of skills and abilities. We’ve all talked about the need to be well rounded so many times that it sounds cliché, and it is, but the point is still valid. In procurement, just like any other function, we need to have a range of skills. We don’t have to be equally strong in all of them, but they have to be present. We need to have abilities that support us in analytics, communication, negotiation, and market intelligence. But we also constantly need to be exposed to new ideas, and no program that we engage in for a fixed period of time will give us that.

I subscribe to the theory that if you work hard and serve as an enthusiastic member of each team you join, good opportunities will continue to present themselves. So whether you get an MBA, a certification, or just read the latest thought leadership, arm yourself with information and then get to work. It’s the results that will speak for you in the end.

Which side do you fall on in the MBA versus certification argument – or would you advocate for another option altogether? Have you and your employer seen the improvement from whatever investment you chose to make?

If you have any thoughts or feedback about this episode, you can reach me directly on Twitter @BuyersMeetPoint or on LinkedIn or by visiting

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