Will the next generation of MBAs be up to the task of running our great commercial enterprises?
By Stanley Bing
FORTUNE — I dropped by a famous business school the other day to do what death eaters do when we go to feast on the souls of the young. We talk to them about our industry. We tell them how we got where we are today. Where am I today? At my desk, deconstructing a muffin and thinking about how the world will belong to them in just a few years, or perhaps decades. I mean, we’re not going anywhere. But eventually we will, kicking and screaming. And then the world will be their oyster. Will they find a pearl therein? Or just brine?
Here’s the key question, as far as I’m concerned: As a group, do they possess, as one student of management has expressed it, the “necessities” to be managers? They’re not boomers. They’re not slackers. They’re something else. But … what? They’ve lived their entire lives with earbuds in their heads. They send pictures of their body parts to one another. When their time comes, will they cut the mustard? Bearing in mind that generalizations are odious, let’s consider:
Character Trait No. 1: They have short attention spans. When forced to stay focused, they sprout beads of exertion on their tiny brows. Their gaze seems to drift off into a middle distance somewhere up and to the right of the ostensible target of their interest.
No. 2: From the tenor of their questions, they seem to believe that they are the first to know anything on any subject and that all people who have lived on the planet before were sort of stupid.
No. 3: They want to know what’s in it for them, and how much money they can make in the short term. While discussions on other issues engaged a respectable level of interest, when the conversation meandered over into executive compensation, attention spiked.
No. 4: They are impatient with the pace of their progress. I noted that most — both in this venue and in informational interviews — would like to begin as vice presidents making mid-six figures. And while they might not be willing to kill anybody themselves, they wouldn’t mind if entire groups of management died by next Tuesday.
No. 5: They’re subject to the whims and vagaries of every passing fancy in technology, management, and finance. They tweet. They overshare. They stay in touch with the cloud 24/7. One has to wonder whether the capacity to generate original ideas will one day be as vestigial and potentially burdensome as the appendix.
No. 6: I wouldn’t bet on it, but I’d say they all had been drinking. Most looked pretty hung over.
No. 7: No loyalty to speak of. When I revealed the amount of time I have been at my corporation, they looked at me as if I were a crippled wildebeest just waiting to be brought down by a hungry leopard.
No. 8: They believe business is a rational occupation, subject to rules they pick up in their reading. It was all I could do not to laugh at the books about best practices in the glass cases that lined the hallways.
No. 9: They are, each and every one, smart, attractive, and likable, and secretly believe that they will succeed on their good looks and charm.
No. 10: I’m not sure there is one. I think that’s good.
In short, anybody who is concerned about the future of American business can rest easy. The next generation of MBAs is thoroughly suited to the challenges of senior management and has, in many ways, purified the natural qualities now possessed by corporate leadership down to the nub. My only hope is that the B-schools of today don’t instruct this natural genius out of them. The future belongs to them! And most days, frankly? I figure they can have it.
This story is from the March 19, 2012 issue of Fortune.