A specialised MBA degree should be relevant to a certain sector within the wider economic context. The course curriculum’s main focus is acquisition of specialist knowledge in a particular field, which could range from aerospace to hospitality. The market value of this kind of postgraduate education is not inconsiderable.  The type of sector-specific, in-depth knowledge that a specialised MBA imparts to students is necessary for career growth in certain niche sectors, such as luxury or even information technology.

A quick overview

In a general sense, specialised MBAs are mostly designed for those managers seeking more expertise in a particular field of business, while retaining the classic benefit of an MBA, that of general management. Thus, managers who have undertaken an MBA can be divided into two broad categories: general managers with previous technical and professional experience in a given subject area, who make up the majority of those drawn to the MBA, and managers who aim to acquire a Specialised MBA degree to gain technical or professional expertise, along with management skills. Taking the broader financial services industry as an example, it could be argued that specialised MBA managers have proven  more efficient within sector-specific activities, such as wealth management and risk control.

When questioning just how specialised a specialised MBA programme is, one should consider the different choices available. According to educational consultancy Aringo Consultants , a specialised MBA may provide in-depth knowledge on any topic, for example marketing, information systems (IT), accounting, human resources, supply chain management, etc. Imagine that a male IT engineer wants to become a manager. He chooses a classic MBA programme because he already has hard programming skills, but he lacks managerial skills. On the other hand, suppose that a female graduate student in a commercial field wishes to pursue a career in payroll management and staff training. If she has already managed to get a job, then she may opt for a specialised MBA degree in human resource (HR) management. This specialist qualification will enable her to apply for better roles, supported by her initial work experience, in HR management.

The specialised MBA’s true nature

In reality, the specialised MBA has found a niche in the market for sector-specific knowledge, rather than in more general business topics, such as marketing, HR and finance. Globalisation and outsourcing of business processes have increased the demand for managers with in-depth expertise in certain fields in their professional backgrounds. This is particularly true of multinational firms. Even though most MBA students pick up a specialisation area once their required classes are over, specialised MBA programmes provide students with an opportunity to concentrate on their selected field from the very beginning of the academic term. For example, the Bordeaux Management School (France) offers an MBA degree specialised in marketing wine. An MBA in the specific field of gas and petroleum management is available at the Robert Gordon University (UK).

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These examples define specialised MBAs and illustrate how different institutions are attempting to prepare their students for diverse kinds of managerial and socio-technical roles. Multinational companies aim to fill a niche for managers with deep understanding of their industry. Unlike a general manager, such a manager is supposed to have more departmental expertise and in-depth knowledge of the economic, political and social powers that drive their business. Industry-specific knowledge remains the cornerstone of specialised MBAs.

The value of a generalist MBA

The opposite example would be a technical or process manager who fails to get promotion due to a lack of managerial expertise to motivate subordinates and boost revenue, as required by the employer. The importance of a conventional MBA degree is undeniable. Modern business leaders must become accustomed to a wide range of legal, managerial, operational, financial and HR issues. Specialist knowledge alone often proves insufficient when dealing with business management functions as a whole.

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Therefore, even a specialised MBA degree programme must have an exhaustive course curriculum that is able to impart both specialist and generalist knowledge. The specialised MBA is thus suitable for candidates who are already managers, but who lack specific knowledge about their industry, or for newcomers who want to make a complete switch of careers, with no prior experience or expertise.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2016-2017 annual Access MBA, EMBA and Masters Guide under the title “For Inquisitive Managers Only”. An online version of the Guide is available here.