There’s a weekly feature in The Sunday Times where a leading businessperson is asked a series of questions about leadership, people who have influenced their careers and what they look for in the people they employ.

The final question is always: Manager or MBA? So that’s really practical experience versus theory, and I suppose the implied inference is that you can’t have both. I don’t know what the actual stats are, but my gut feeling is that the ‘managers’ are currently ahead in this particular poll. It raises an interesting point as to what the main attributes employers look for in key employees. There are also some subtle pointers to be gleaned about how the commercial world and higher education interact.

A few years ago, we started to work with a leading university college on the accreditation of one of our training programmes, and I can say the process has certainly been an ‘education’ for all concerned. It’s called ‘employer engagement’ and the theory is that you take an existing successful employer developed training programme and wrap around it an academic framework that gives it a degree of added rigour and ultimately the added authority of being an ‘externally’ recognised qualification or award. In theory, it’s the classic win-win option and overall I can say that’s what we’ve ended up with, but it’s been an eventful journey.

One of the key things that’s been highlighted for us is the diff erence between training and education. It’s alluded to in The Sunday Times’ question, and it’s perhaps a crude generalisation, but from our experience, and from our recent surveys, what employers fundamentally want from any training that they pay for is a betterperforming, more effective employee. The resultant qualifi cation is generally highly valued by the employee , but for employers it’s more of a ‘nice to have’ and it’s certainly not the key driver.

I remember being told as a raw graduate that intelligent people didn’t make very good businesspeople – apparently they had a tendency to ‘overanalyse’ things. Clearly it’s nonsense to say that being able to apply a degree of intellectual rigour to situations and being able to analyse and refl ect are not compatible with business. Indeed, these are perhaps some of the essential key skills, but a piece of paper on its own can’t make you a better businessperson, or earn you a fortune.

As with all things, it’s a matter of practical application. The ability to absorb new ideas, learn new skills and pass exams is one thing but the ability to apply them by engaging and influencing those around you is what makes any business qualifi cation worth having.