A Professor of Financial Accounting on the Value of a Liberal Arts Inspired MBA – an interview with Marco Trombetta

Could you ask for a more traditional MBA course than financial accounting? How could liberal arts possibly influence this subject matter? To find out the answer to this question, we spoke to IE Brown Professor of Financial Accounting Marco Trombetta. His distinguished career began at Oxford University where he received a Ph.D. in Economics. In addition to his long tenure at IE, where he currently serves as Vice-Dean of Research, Trombetta was the Assistant Editor of the European Accounting Review, one of the most important academic accounting journals in the world.


Why does teaching at IE Brown appeal to you?
IE Brown ranks as one of my best teaching experiences. It reflects my philosophy that you need to teach the whole person from a rich palette. My path to accounting is unusual. I focused on liberal arts as an undergraduate and economics for my Ph.D. As a result, my way of teaching is different. At IE Brown, I’m able to contextualize – humanize – the subject in a way that would not be welcome or possibly even understood in a traditional MBA program, even though ultimately business is a profoundly human endeavor.

How would you describe the class dynamic?
Like other MBA programs, IE Brown boasts diverse cohorts but because of its intimate size, IE Brown gives greater voice to a variety of viewpoints that makes for a uniquely engaging, intellectual and rigorous dynamic. An individual film producer’s unique perspective will get drowned out in a herd of students with a more uniform background. Where is the learning in that?

As a professor, this diversity gives me the liberty to broaden the syllabus – to expand more about the history of a subject or tackle unconventional case studies – than you would in a traditional finance course. Even for those students who have already been exposed to financial accounting, I’m able to give a new perspective.

What is the value of liberal arts to the cultivation of business leadership?
Liberal arts builds our capacity to think hard. It is a discipline founded on the principle of critical thinking where the goal is to tackle and expose the unfamiliar rather than apply the same rules. The ability to question and arrive at a new perspective is what gives professionals the capacity and the confidence to solve the unknown and achieve breakthrough ideas.

This lesson was driven home to me by an experience at University. I was taking a math class that students had to pass to continue in the Economics program. The pressure was tremendous and the professor equally intimidating. In preparation for the final exam, I finally got up the nerve to ask the professor for more practice exercises. He responded, “It’s good that you’re not doing exercises. When I give you a problem that you’ve never seen, you’ll start thinking.”

The moral of the story: if you just study how things are done then you’ll never develop the intellectual fortitude to do things differently.

How does liberal arts help professionals to lead in today’s global innovation economy?
At IE Brown, we question the value of a traditional cookie-cutter approach to business management in today’s innovation economy. Learning more of the same doesn’t teach you to think deeply. It doesn’t prepare you to struggle with tough problems. IE Brown engages the liberal arts to cultivate the breadth of knowledge, intellectual rigor, and a curiosity about the human condition necessary to improve the lives of individuals across the globe and drive industry forward.

As my father always said, “What does Ancient Latin offer a modern society? Apparently nothing. But you can always tell someone who studied it.”

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