When moving jobs do commercial leaders still need a University degree to their name?

When moving jobs do commercial leaders still need a University degree to their name?


By Mark Rowley

I`ll come straight out with it… I don’t have a University degree. There, that wasn’t too bad was it? However during my 35 year staffing career, degrees have featured daily in my work. And for the right reason too in the main but in the current commercial world, is it still really necessary to be judged by your academic achievements some 20 or 30 years ago? Should the young you still dictate your career and job opportunities in later life, when today you can demonstrate a track record in company growth, effective leadership and increasing shareholder value? It is argued by many that experience may teach you that ‘doing it that way does not work’, but education gives you the theoretical knowledge and analytical skill to show why it doesn’t work. Education develops your speed of learning and ability to learn at depth.

This discussion has been around a while. What is clear is that there is no right or wrong answer, as career agendas differ greatly from individual to individual and across sector domains. Clearly in specialist areas such as Engineering, Pharma, Science, Law, Accounting etc. relevant degrees are indeed necessary as they provide the platform for advancement in a chosen specialist field, leading to PhD`s, Doctorates and Chartered status for some. Leaders in such teams will need to have the credibility amongst their peers to lead from the front. But for broad based commercial leaders is it necessary? I understand a degree comes with discipline. You’ve done your homework, you’ve worked to strict timescales and in the main, you’re eager to learn. This without question, shows an employer qualities of character and personal academic drive at career start, but don’t most of us change and evolve as our careers gather pace?

Today in the UK, there are over 50,000 undergraduate courses available through 395 providers. There has never been such a choice. Today’s senior figures would have been educated within a different culture and arguably, a more intense system where gaining a first class degree was indeed high status. Today it may carry less impact. Many global companies hiring their early career entrants are now dictating MBA`s and higher level qualifications, that reflect the top 5% of students.

On many occasions I have taken a search brief where the requirements show the need to hold a degree or be of a `degree standard`. What does this mean? Everyone who left school after `A` levels will have different personal paths and there may be genuine factors as to why a University course was not completed. So does `degree standard` refer to successes and achievements in work? Is this a way to open applications to a wider audience from a sympathetic hirer?

The worlds` business landscape is littered with recognised leaders who shunned the University route including Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Henry Ford and Walt Disney to name just a few. Those without degrees are clearly in good company, but you do of course need the personal qualities and drive to achieve what these business greats have and in the main the majority of us simply don’t have it. It’s not a weakness, it’s just that everyone’s different. It does emphasise however that personal and behavioural characteristics should be high on the `must have` list that firms aspire to and in my view should run in close parallel to the academic achievements from a past life.

I would be keen to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please do feel free to respond to us here at Hanover Fox (mark.rowley@hanoverfox.com) … now back to my open university studies.