Operations management is the art of keeping organizations running smoothly. Everything from production and personnel management to inventory control and accounting falls under the operations management umbrella.
Operations management professionals (or operations managers) don't actually manage the day-to-day goings on of these departments. Rather, they help those departments use their resources—including human resources—as efficiently as possible and improve processes wherever possible to boost overall productivity.
It's a big job, though not one that necessarily requires a graduate degree. Salary.com data shows that about half of all operations managers find work with bachelor's degrees only, and only 19 percent hold master's degrees. Of those, some have the Master of Science in Operations Management; others have operations management MBAs.
What's the right degree path for you? There are some compelling reasons to opt for the MBA—especially if you're dreaming of becoming a chief operating officer someday. The top programs can set you up for a rewarding and lucrative career.
In this article about the best operations management MBA schools, we cover:
An MBA in Operations Management is first and foremost a business degree. Traditional on-campus and online MBA programs typically include coursework on operations and operational efficiency. However, operations management MBA programs devote more credit hours to topics related to the practices and processes that go into the production and distribution of goods and services.
In addition to core classes focused on advanced business fundamentals, operations management MBA programs may touch on:
Every class in an operations management MBA program challenges students to employ strategic thinking. "Any organization that does work, should aim to do its work better–and be more competitive and serve its customers better," explains Mohan Tatikonda, an operations management professor in the Kelley School of Business, in aU.S. News & World Report interview. "We're all doing work to serve our customers ... We'd like to know what work is the most important work to do, and for the work we are going to do–how do we do it better? That's what operations management is all about: Managing one's own work and managing the work of the enterprise."
The operations management concentration appeals to analytical thinkers who enjoy troubleshooting. Operations management MBA cohorts often consist of problem solvers and innovators—in other words, the kinds of people who look at the world with an eye toward making it better. They're not necessarily aspiring operational managers (more on this below), but they are interested in efficiency, productivity, and resource sustainability. They want to have a big impact, which is possible in operations because operations management touches on so many processes.
"The position of operations manager is very close to the golden hands, or people who are actually working day and night on shop floor (say in an automobile company), in plants (for process industry)," Aditya Gupta, Consultant at Deloitte Consulting, wrote in a Quora thread about what's great about working in operations management, "and you realize that your decisions not only improve the productivity, cost effectiveness, and timeliness of different process, but also directly impact the lives of the major part of people working in the organization."
The quick answer is that you can become an operations manager… or director of operations or vice president of operations. In each of these roles, you might specialize because every industry has its own processes and operational policies. There is:
Graduating with an operations management degree doesn't have to mean working in operations management, however. There are other positions open to operations management MBA holders, including:
The list of colleges and universities known for their full-time and part-time operations management MBA programs looks a lot like lists of the best business schools. That's because a great MBA program is a great MBA program, regardless of which concentration or specialization track students choose. You'll get a strong business education no matter what, but it will be delivered in the context of operations management.
Some of the best part-time and full-time MBA programs for operations management can be found at:
You may have noticed that our list is quite a bit shorter than those published in some other operations management MBA guides. That's because we only included notable colleges and universities that offer an operations management MBA concentration. Some guides treat supply chain management and operations as a single discipline when compiling lists of the best operations management MBA schools. Although there's a lot of overlap between these two disciplines, they are not identical. Operations management is primarily concerned with internal processes, while supply chain management is outwardly focused.
The prerequisite requirements for specialized MBA degree programs tend to be very similar to those for traditional two-year MBA programs. Applicants need to have at least a four-year bachelor's degree, preferably in a discipline like business administration, operations management, supply chain management, or logistics. Students in MBA in Operations Management programs also come from accounting, finance, engineering, economics, and tech backgrounds. The programs at these schools are extremely competitive. Good grades plus high GMAT scores are must-haves, though it's worth noting that you'll need more than academic prowess.
Most of the best operations management business programs have requirements related to professional experience. Typically, schools want to see that prospective MBA students have at least two years of post-graduation work experience plus excellent recommendations from managers. Applicants may also have to demonstrate leadership, teamwork, and innovation through previous projects and other work experience. Schools want to know that applicants have the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to classroom discussions and group projects and that they're following a career trajectory that this degree will support.
The average salary associated with operations management MBAs is about $102,000, but that number doesn't tell a particularly enlightening story. You might assume that graduates of MBA in Operations Management programs go on to become business operations managers (who earn about $96,000 annually), but that's only one possible path. Salaries in operations management vary by field.
Business operations managers earn about $96,000. In contrast, hotel operations managers earn just $54,000. Supply chain operations managers are some of the highest-paid operations managers, earning over $112,000 per year. But again, these figures are based on averages gathered from among operations professionals who graduated from a variety of schools and work at companies both large and small.
Here's what we do know for sure: Graduating with an MBA from a top business school will almost certainly result in a higher lifetime earning potential and higher paychecks immediately after graduation. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average salary plus bonuses of 2019 MBA graduates was about $107,000. The average starting salary for Wharton grads is closer to $170,000.
Many of the programs we list do fall on the pricier side of the MBA tuition spectrum. An MBA from Wharton will set you back more than $80,000 per year, not including books, supplies, or housing. Many of the other schools charge close to $70,000 per year. The Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, however, charges around $10,000 per year for in-state students and $20,000 per year for non-residents. Tuition at the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at University of Michigan falls somewhere in the middle, and is closer to the average cost of an MBA.
You can certainly land an entry-level position and then advance in operations without a graduate degree. In fact, most operations management professionals launch their careers with undergraduate degrees like the Bachelor of Arts in Operations Management, Bachelor of Business Administration in Logistics and Operations, or Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain Management. Rising through the ranks in operations management may be easier, however, with an operations management MBA. Chances are good that if you graduate from one of the top MBA programs, you'll also make more money than your colleagues with bachelor's degrees.
The relative versatility of this MBA specialization is also something to consider. Most fields have operational management needs, which means there are jobs for qualified operations management professionals in sectors as diverse as healthcare, banking, manufacturing, and retail.
Maybe you're not sure you want to spend your entire career in operations. An MBA in Operations Management can also lead to opportunities outside of operations, giving you the knowledge and skills necessary to pivot out of operations management entirely. You'll also have the bona fides to land a seat at the c-suite table. In other words, this degree (plus your drive and experience) can take you in many different directions, but will definitely take you far.
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