Henry Mintzberg: Politics, Management, and McGill

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Business professor and author Henry Mintzberg spoke with Desautels professor Karl Moore on Friday, November 8 to discuss his books and thoughts on modern political and management-related developments. 



Mintzberg delved into different types of management, arguing that CEOs are given too much attention from the public, often treated like they are the “be all and end all of the company.” Mintzberg stated that this encourages the CEOs to focus on short term gains that lead them to “screw up” the companies in the long run. Professing that managers should focus more on “rolling up their sleeves” than traditional leadership, Mintzberg said that he idealized Steve Jobs, who “was spending all his time developing product in the laboratory.”

Mintzberg also credited the weaknesses of modern MBA programs to the fact that professors “can’t create a manager in a classroom.” He argued that there are three components of managing: art, craft, and science. He stated that “art” is intrinsic and cannot be taught, and “craft” can only be gained with experience, so MBA programs are capable only of teaching the “science” behind managing. Mintzberg argued that graduates come out of MBA programs with a narrow view on how to manage, thus inhibiting their own careers. Mintzberg cited his own study, showing that CEOs who are MBA graduates do worse than CEOs without MBAs. 

[Professors] can’t create a manager in a classroom.

To alleviate this problem, Mintzberg helped create two MBA programs designed for those who already have managerial experience. The McGill International Masters Program for Managers dedicates half of class time for managers to share experiences with each other. The McGill International Program for Health Leadership, which Mintzberg describes as “indisputably the top program in the world for management in healthcare,” combines working professionals from over 15 countries.


Rebalancing Society

Mintzberg discussed his 2014 book Rebalancing Society: Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center, where he argued that society has become “tilted” to the private sector, giving it enormous power. Mintzberg argued that people have been lashing out against this status quo internationally in the past five years by voting for Trump, Brexit, and Hungarian President Viktor Orban. Arguing that power distortions are “much more dire than most people realize,” he suggested that the world is headed towards either “devastation or reformation,” comparing the current working-class struggle against the establishment to Martin Luther’s laying of the 95 Theses to the Catholic Church.

Mintzberg also discussed the responsibility of communities and companies to reframe how we see the world. While economics is one way of viewing the world, other needs must also be considered, such as environmental factors. He praised Greta Thunberg and the Occupy Wall Street movement’s unabashed criticism of the status quo, but stated that effective protests mobilize many people but also target specific behaviours.

Arguing that power distortions are ‘much more dire than most people realize,’ he suggested that the world is headed towards either ‘devastation or reformation.’

Noting a trend that the economically powerful are increasingly damaging democracy, Mintzberg criticized the “race to the bottom” approach of powerful economic actors advocating for governments to slash corporate tax rates to attract investment. He posited that this ensuing loss in government revenue results in increasingly regressive revenue extraction methods like sales or diesel fuel taxes, arguing that these methods disproportionately affect the working class and contribute to populist uprisings against the status quo like the Gilet Jaunes movement in France. He offered examples of constructive improvements including Germany’s longstanding policy of giving half of seats of board of directors to the actual workers, called codetermination. 

Additionally, Mintzberg illustrated how companies can be responsible for pursuing alternative goals to profit including his publishing company that made his book available for free online. He argued that American labour rights are so weak that codetermination in GM or Google would be ridiculed by mainstream circles.


McGill vs. Harvard

Finally, when asked what has kept him at McGill, Mintzberg offered his praise of McGill institutions, explaining that he didn’t receive pushback for his criticism of the MBA program in his book Managers Not MBAs. In contrast, he predicted that alumni and faculty at Harvard, where he was offered a professorship, would “be all over me” if he published the book there. He described the academic environment at the Harvard Business School as focused on archaic management training methods like the Case Study Method that “train a George Bush kind of leader.” Mintzberg believes that at McGill, he enjoys more freedom to act independently from the institution’s set of beliefs.

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