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Viewpoints: Business, especially marketing, might be a great major after all

By Paul G. Barretta

In response to an article appearing in the Feb. 5 News, “Majoring in business may not be a good choice,” I would like to offer some insight and clarify a common misconception.

I agree with several things Jeffrey Selingo has written. For example, I agree that liberal arts is an excellent base for a holistic education experience, and that students should choose their major based on their passion. However, there are some points that need clarifying.

It should be noted that not all business schools are the same; a degree from one is not the same as all others. An excellent measure of value, both in content learned and career results produced, is accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

This accreditation requires the highest standards of what is being taught, and by whom it is being taught; it has been earned by fewer than 5 percent of business schools worldwide.

I would also like to address two horrible misconceptions about the discipline of marketing indicated by Selingo: that marketing is for people who are not of a quantitative mindset, and that students end up in marketing if they are not good with numbers and therefore unable to go into finance or accounting. This leads to misguided conclusions about job opportunities for marketing majors.

These two misconceptions may have been how the world worked 50 years ago, however, in contemporary marketing there is strong appreciation for how qualitative and quantitative elements of organizations work together.

The marketing function has changed from convincing people they need a product to first understanding consumers and what they want.  Understanding consumers is fueled by theories borrowed from psychology and sociology; learning what consumers want relies on high-level research skills.

The marketing function has become an important contributor to a large portion of organizations. For example, product management does not have the word marketing in its title, but it is an important part of the marketing function of a corporation.

I have great respect for the people who perform jobs associated with other majors, particularly accounting and finance. I am not indicating these are not important functions. I am pointing out that a higher percentage of job titles associated with these functions are directly related to the required majors. A tax accountant is clearly a job for a graduate with an accounting major, as a financial analyst is for a finance graduate.

Because the marketing function has moved from a corner office in 1967 to a skill set contributing to multiple parts of an organization’s functions in 2017 does not make it a bad choice; quite the opposite, it makes it an excellent choice of major.

The troubling part of Selingo’s article is that misconceptions and outdated assumptions lead to misleading conclusions about job opportunities. For example, the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has ranked “market research analyst” as expecting a 19 percent annual growth rate from 2014 to 2024, compared with an average job growth rate of 7 percent. Market research analyst is an ideal example of contemporary marketing because it involves both quantitative and qualitative elements as they are applied using marketing skills.

After achieving an undergraduate degree in finance and an MBA in international business, I worked for companies large and small, and ran my own small finance-based company. After more than 20 years of corporate and entrepreneurial life, I earned my AACSB accredited Ph.D. in marketing. I happily use my industry experience and knowledge to deliver a combination of quantitative and qualitative skills to students. I hope that readers will consider the contemporary perspective of marketing, not the “Mad Men” version.

Paul G. Barretta, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and chairman of the Marketing Department at St. Bonaventure University.

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