CIOs say MBAs are a useful tool for their jobs – as long as they are studied for the right reasons and combined with plenty of practical experience.

In the latest CIO Jury poll, the 12-strong panel of IT chiefs voted eight to four in favour of the qualification, although even some of the supporters said experience is a critical attribute.

Following a piece on discussing a book by Philip Delves Broughton entitled What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years in the Cauldron of Capitalism, three CIOs said an MBA was not worth the time and effort.

CIO50 2008: Top 10

The UK’s leading CIOs revealed…

1.Robin Dargue Royal Mail

2.David Lister Royal Bank of Scotland

3.Neil Cameron Unilever

4.Catherine Doran Network Rail

5.John Suffolk UK government

6.Gordon Lovell-Read Siemens UK

7.Paul Coby British Airways

8.Tania Howarth Birds Eye Iglo Group

9.Simon Post Carphone Warehouse

10.Ben Wishart Whitbread

When asked if an MBA is worth it, The London Clinic IT director Mike Roberts said: “Only if your boss wants it. Very often, people assume that if they have an MBA they should be the CEO. However, an MBA doesn’t teach experience of dealing with people. All senior management is about people.”

Ted Woodhouse, ex-IT director of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust went even further in his condemnation of the artificial nature of MBAs.

He said: “MBA is definitely not worth the effort. My experience of people with MBAs is that the qualification gives them the skills to ‘talk the talk’, but certainly not to ‘walk the walk’.”

AOL Broadband director of systems and operations Steve Clarke, said personally an MBA was no use, but might have been early on in his career.

He said: “There was a time when I believed I should do an MBA but now I believe my personal development and job prospects will be enhanced more through my coach and mentors. From them I have on-going access to vast amounts of experience and wisdom that I can immediately put in to practice in the real business world, that’s something two years in a classroom just can’t compete with.”

Those in favour of MBAs were also equivocal in their support of the course. They acknowledged it was no substitute for skills and experience gained on the shop floor, but it did provide a fresh perspective.

Gavin Watrup, group IT Director of marketing services company Creston, said: “It depends on why you’re doing it. If the criteria for success were career progression and salary increase, I’d say ‘no’. If I wanted to employ a CIO I’d prefer practical experience over theoretical/academic experience every time. But if the point is to add to your toolkit, and completely refresh your outlook, then absolutely, an MBA is worth it.”

Nic Bellenberg, IT director of Hachette Filipacchi UK, noted that MBAs are worthwhile in that they goad people into making up for the lost time.

He said: “I think the value is to the individual. Those I know who have completed MBAs have had to make sacrifices of money; putting their immediate careers on hold; or spending less time with their families. Post MBA they have then been very driven to ensure that their careers advance accordingly and repay the sacrifices. If you were to do an MBA without a specific goal in mind, then it may mean less to you.”

Today’s CIO Jury was:

  • Nic Bellenberg, IT director, Hachette Filipacchi (UK)
  • Graham Benson, IT director, M and M Direct
  • Peter Birley, IT director, Brown Jacobson
  • Ben Booth, European and UK CTO, Ipsos Mori
  • Steve Clarke, director of systems & operations, AOL Broadband
  • Steve Gediking, head of IT & facilities, Independent Police Complaints Commission
  • Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
  • Richard Storey, head of IT, Guys & St Thomas’ Hospital
  • Gavin Watrup, group IT director, Creston
  • Steve Williams, director of information systems and services, Newcastle University
  • Ted Woodhouse, Ex-director of IT, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Graham Yellowley, director of technology, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International

If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and want to be part of’s CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at