Henry Mintzberg’s Un-MBA Management Program

by Maya Itah on


Lili Hall came across the International Masters Program in Practicing Management (IMPM) by chance. She had considered MBA programs before, but the standard options seemed too formulaic. “Every time I looked at the curriculum, I’d get sad,” she says. As the founder and CEO of KNOCK, inc., a creative agency, Hall had already enjoyed a lot of professional success. She wasn’t looking to switch industries or climb the corporate ladder. “For me, it was very personal,” she explains. “I wanted to be challenged personally, and obviously professionally.”

One day, she read a Harvard Business Review article by Henry Mintzberg, a well-regarded professor of management studies at McGill University who co-founded IMPM 18 years ago. Intrigued by Mintzberg’s unorthodox ideas, Hall did some research and soon learned about the program. IMPM is supposed to fill an unmet need: While traditional MBA programs give students a solid grasp of business functions—finance, marketing, et cetera—they don’t teach them how to be managers.

“If they think that, they are menaces to society,” Mintzberg said in an interview with The Times of India. “We should have skulls and crossbones stamped on to their heads saying ‘warning: not prepared to manage,’ because the idea that you know management because you have done a hundred case studies—that’s dysfunctional. George W. Bush did a hundred case studies, and look what happened.”

Lili Hall

Lili Hall

It’s a bold critique, but Mintzberg clearly means it. IMPM bears little resemblance to traditional business school offerings. First of all, you don’t need a degree to get in. The current cohort includes people from all over the educational spectrum: engineers, medical doctors, people who’ve earned both MBAs and EMBAs, and people who’ve never graduated from college.


Hall, who finished the program last year, had a similarly mixed class. “Really, the only thing we had in common is management experience,” she says. IMPM requires eight years of it. The hope is that graduates will go back to their respective organizations and pass on what they’ve learned.

IMPM also goes beyond paying lip service to the importance of learning how to manage people in different cultural contexts. Each of its five modules takes place at a different university in an entirely different country. Students study at each country for about ten days, and the whole program is spread over 16 months (it’s designed to accommodate working professionals). Though IMPM is a collaboration between multiple institutions, McGill University in Quebec and Lancaster University in England have the most at stake. They’re always included in the rotation—the other three countries get switched in and out—and at the end of the program, students can choose to write their final papers and get their degrees at either one.

After the modules are over, pairs of students take turns shadowing each other for one work week. “I felt like I was pretty worldly before, but when you get into this, you realize there’s just so much to learn,” Hall says. Though Hall was the only American in her cohort, her mother is from Brazil, and she spent a good chunk of her childhood there. When she shadowed her classmate, she had to put aside some of that Brazilian warmth, especially as a woman: Her shadowing experience took place in Dubai and Qatar. “At times, it felt like it was just an out-of-body experience,” she says.

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