One reason given for the value of an MBA degree is the relationships that one develops with other students as well as the connection to the larger alumni network. Such relationships can eventually be used to open doors, secure a place at `the table’ and traded with others. While I’ve long since replaced the belief in `res ipsa loquitur‘ for `who you know matters’, I’m still not convinced by the relationship story.

Suppose introductions to gatekeepers and decision makers are scarce resources. When handing them out, why should I favor someone just because we attended the same institution? Presumably what matters is what good turn the other might do for me. Surely, this will depend on the position held rather than the school attended. Furthermore, why should the other’s academic pedigree suggest anything about the likelihood of the other returning the favor in the future? I know of no B-school that claims that it is selecting a class of future Cato’s.

True, favors are not requested or granted until a bond is established between the parties. Having something in common assists the formation of such bonds. But, why should having attended the same school be any more useful in this regard than a common interest in wine, golf or stamps?

Finally, if the alumni network is valuable, then merging two small networks should increase value for members of either network. Thus, in much the same way that some airlines share their frequent flyer programs (eg star alliance), we should see certain schools merging their networks. Haas and Anderson? Johnson School and Olin? One sees something like this at the executive masters level but not at the full time MBA level.