Any discussions of the elements which go into different careers in business must start with the admission that there is very little known about this complicated and elusive subject. While the effort to piece together some kind of a general picture seems worth attempting--and from the point of view of the business schools, inescapable--there is no use pretending that the results will be anything but first approximations, subject to numerous qualifications and questions.
Broadly speaking, careers in business which call for special college preparation can be said to consist of three main components: technical skills, general background qualities, and what might be termed "strategic capacities." The first refer to the particular techniques which have to be mastered to achieve competence in any line of work, whether as a stenographer or secretary, bookkeeper or comptroller, foreman or company executive; while there are certain general groupings of such skills. they obviously cover a wide range of positions, and any one school cannot hope to include more than a few. The second component refers to background preparation necessary to carry out job responsibilities, such as knowledge of language and literature, ability to handle numerical relations, observance of accepted standards of behavior, and the like. While an essential element in all lines of work, this phase of career preparation does not point to any special role for business schools since it can be satisfied by studies of a rather general nature. The third component refers to the capacity for grasping relationships between jobs, activities, physical magnitudes, and/or human beings in a business environment, and developing out of them a pattern of analysis and a specific course of action. This capacity for creative synthesis, though hard to define and harder still to prepare for in an academic program, can be brought to a wide variety of jobs in business and, by the same token, to every stage in a business career.
Put somewhat more specifically, this last-named capacity has to do with reasoning about business-operating questions with both precision and imagination, seeing the immediate and further removed possibilities in situations, using general principles to illuminate concrete problems, and working through the complexities of specific cases to workable solutions. Put more broadly, this quality has to do with the growth-potential which an employer or administrator always looks for in a subordinate. The capacity for seeing beyond the immediate and routine is, of course, much more important in some positions than in others, and different aspects of this capacity are emphasized in different branches of a business (production, finance, etc.); accordingly, such differences have to be taken into account in developing suitable programs of academic work. The underlying capacity required, however, is potentially useful in all jobs and careers in business, and the prime task of business schools is to foster it in every possible way.
Qualities of character and personality are still of great, even of paramount, importance in management. They can be learned only through practical experience. And such practical experience is still the most vital element in the development of any executive, provided it is practical experience of the right kind. But unless it is accompanied by mental capacity of a high order, the fruit of continuous intellectual development, it will be sterile. Everyone knows men of unimpeachable integrity and sterling worth who have remained janitors or mechanics. The difference, the new factor, in the total situation is the recognition of the importance of the intellectual factor in the complete picture and of the fact that intellectual growth can occur only as the result of continuous education.