An MBA is an advanced degree designed for ambitious professionals who strive to become future business leaders. Originating in the United States in the early 20th century, the MBA was established in response to the demands of business management at the time.

In the subsequent decades, the demand for skilled business leaders accelerated as the US experienced a surge in industrialisation. This need spurred the expansion of MBA courses. The MBA curricula have evolved significantly, and now MBAs cover an array of disciplines such as finance, marketing, operations, entrepreneurship and strategy. Online MBAs have also emerged, offering flexible learning options for professionals juggling career commitments and personal responsibilities.

As a globally recognised and prestigious qualification, the MBA remains a respected qualification for those who aspire to elevate their business careers. In this article, we answer the question of what is an MBA? We also explore the history and evolution of MBAs, the range of units offered and the notable figures who hold this advanced degree.

What does MBA stand for? A history of the MBA

MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. The qualification has its roots in the United States, emerging in the early 20th century as a response to the growing complexities of business management. Harvard University ran the first MBA course in 1908, with a focus on a more scientific approach to management education.

As the US experienced rapid industrialisation during the mid-20th century, the demand for business leaders with advanced management skills grew significantly. This led to the expansion of MBA courses across various universities in the US and later worldwide. Those early MBAs took about two years to complete, so they were similar in duration to today’s courses.

In the 1960s and 1970s, MBA courses evolved significantly, incorporating diverse disciplines such as finance, marketing, leadership, strategy and operations. This multidisciplinary approach aimed to prepare graduates for the complexities of modern business environments.

In the 1980s, the popularity of MBAs exploded. This was driven by the increasing globalisation of business and the rise of financial services and consulting industries. Business schools started offering specialised MBA courses to meet the demands of specific industries and sectors.

Since the 1990s, MBAs have continued to evolve, integrating technology and entrepreneurship into their curricula. Online MBA courses also emerged, providing flexibility for working professionals to pursue advanced education without leaving their jobs or balancing family or other demands.

Today, numerous universities offer MBA courses worldwide with over 300 MBA courses estimated to be available catering to a diverse range of students. Some MBA courses are general, while others offer specialisations, and each MBA entry requirement differs. The MBA remains a prestigious qualification for individuals seeking to advance their careers in various business fields.

What do you learn in an MBA?

Let’s explore some core areas of study that are a feature of many MBAs.

Leadership and management

With units such as Authentic Leadership, People and Organisations, and Human Resource Management, an MBA can help you develop skills in managing diverse teams, strategic decision-making and ethical leadership. These units can help you understand global leadership dynamics and organisational behaviour.

Finance and accounting

Learn financial reporting, budgeting, financial analysis and investment management. Understand how to interpret financial statements and apply financial principles to real-world business scenarios with units such as Accounting for Managers and Corporate Finance.


Marketing for Managers and Digital Marketing are two units you might find in an MBA. You would typically explore market research, consumer behaviour, strategic marketing planning, and online marketing techniques in these units. You can also learn to develop integrated marketing strategies that drive customer value and corporate profitability.


Study the formulation and implementation of business strategies in various organisational environments. With units such as Corporate Strategy, you’ll learn how to conduct competitive analyses, implement your vision and develop adaptability and strategic thinking skills.


With units such as Strategic Management and Business Policy and Sustainable Financial Management and Reporting, your MBA will equip you with the skills to manage operations, supply chains and logistics. You will also gain an understanding of process optimisation, quality control and the management of systems that produce goods and deliver services.

Business Analytics

Learn to leverage data for decision-making using statistical methods and predictive analytics. Understand data visualisation techniques and business intelligence applications with Business Analytics and Financial Analytics units.


With units such as Managing Innovation and Entrepreneurship, you can explore the process of creating new business ventures, including ideation, validation and execution. You could also learn about innovation strategies, venture financing, and scaling startups.


In units such as Business Ethics and Sustainability and Corporate Governance for Managers, you’ll study the ethical challenges in business and explore corporate governance practices. You’ll also learn about the roles and responsibilities of boards, corporate social responsibility and ethical leadership.

Global business

In units such as Global Business, you’ll gain an understanding of the global business environment. You’ll develop global business strategies and explore the economic, political and cultural opportunities and challenges of international business.

Project management

By studying units such as Project Management Principles and Project Management Techniques, you’ll learn methodologies for managing complex projects, including scheduling risk management and stakeholder communication.

Is an MBA a good degree?

Meredith Bell, the founder of Glass Elevator Consulting, decided to study an MBA after being inspired by the story of the CEO of a large new company. She chose Southern Cross University’s online MBA course because it offered an accelerated learning structure, flexible study arrangements and recognition of prior learning from her past studies and work experience.

“I learnt a lot while studying my MBA,” Bell says. “Some subjects reinforced and finessed the skills I already had, but in other subjects, I was learning new content. They introduced me to new concepts and areas of study and work that I was very interested in.

Bell juggled work and raising her family (she gave birth to her second and third children during her studies), and while there were challenges with so much to do, she has no regrets.

“Studying online meant I was able to continue my studies while working, having three very young children at home and a partner who worked away half of every month. I was able to manage my own study and lecture times to ensure I had my assignments, exams and tests completed by their due dates.”

The hard work paid off. “Not only has my confidence boosted through gaining the qualification, but my skill set has advanced greatly. Immediately after graduating, I was head-hunted for a role that was ideal for me based on my previous experience as well as my newfound qualifications.”

How to get an MBA

Thanks to various delivery modes, today’s MBAs are open to more students than ever. Let’s take a look at the three modes of delivery.

Online MBA courses

As the name suggests, online MBA courses are delivered entirely online and suitable for busy schedules, such as professionals with full-time jobs or those with families and other commitments who need flexibility in their study hours. Those seeking a quality education without needing to relocate also benefit from online courses.

While online courses require discipline and self-motivation to manage time effectively and stay on track with coursework, they can offer plenty of opportunities to interact with students from across Australia. Generally, the duration of an online MBA is the same as on campus — about two years.

On-campus MBA courses

For students seeking a more immersive experience, on-campus courses allow face-to-face interactions with professors and peers. Some universities offer networking opportunities to help build relationships and foster collaboration.

On-campus courses are suitable for those who can commit to a full-time academic schedule and are ideal for individuals looking to pivot their careers, meet new people and receive direct guidance from academics. Because they have fixed classes and deadlines, they are not suitable for students who need more flexibility, such as those with full-time careers.

Hybrid MBA courses

Hybrid MBA courses are suitable for those who need the flexibility of online learning but can also attend campus for face-to-face interactions as they combine online learning with occasional on-campus sessions or residencies.

These students enjoy access to both online and on-campus networking events and resources. Some hybrid courses allow students to choose how much time they spend online and on campus, allowing them to adjust their schedules as needed.

Whether an online, on-campus or hybrid MBA is right for you depends on your lifestyle, circumstances and study goals.

Notable figures with an MBA

Several notable Australians hold MBAs, including Margaret Jackson, the first woman to become chair of a top 50 publicly listed company in the country. In the 1990s, she held directorships in Qantas, ANZ and Billabong and then, from 2000 to 2007, was the chair of Qantas.

Kirsty Dunphey, 2002 Telstra Young Australian Business Woman of the Year, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Up Loans, pursued an MBA enhancing her leadership in the financial and property sectors.

Founder and managing director of ePharmacy and managing partner of Chemist Warehouse in Queensland and Northern NSW, Brett Clark AM, holds an MBA, contributing to his distinguished leadership in business and community roles.

South African-born Gail Kelly started her career as a teacher before moving into banking. In Australia, she worked for the Commonwealth Bank and became CEO of St George Bank in 2002. She was Westpac’s CEO from 2008 to 2014 and now has a range of advisory and board roles.

Andrew Bassat, the co-founder and CEO of SEEK, completed his MBA at Melbourne Business School. He worked as a solicitor before founding SEEK with his brother Paul in 1997.

Other notable figures who hold MBAs are Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg, American tech executive Sheryl Sandberg, former Meta COO, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

MBAs in Australia

MBA courses vary across universities, each offering a different set of units catering to different interests and career goals. For instance, some MBAs have a global focus, equipping students with the skills and knowledge to navigate international markets and cultures effectively. These courses often include units focusing on becoming a global business leader, international markets and cross-cultural management.

On the other hand, some MBAs emphasise management and leadership, delving deep into topics like leadership styles, organisational and employee behaviour, strategic management and communication theories.

Other MBAs offer more finance-focused units where students learn to analyse and interpret financial information, create business reports, and use financial analyses to grow a business. The diversity of units allows individuals to choose an MBA course that aligns with their career aspirations.

Many students research MBA rankings to help them choose a course. These rankings offer comparisons of universities and courses based on various metrics. However, it’s important to carefully research each course to see if it caters to your specific needs.

MBA Discovery’s university partners offer courses that help prepare students for the future of business. Southern Cross University’s MBA has been designed in consultation with industry experts. The project-based assessments in this course allow students to apply what they learn straight away with the support of academics and peers.

Victoria University’s MBA covers a range of management and business topics and offers experiential learning through content, scenarios and case studies relevant to current working life.

James Cook University’s MBA incorporates the best business thinking from around the world to create graduates who can become successful business leaders anywhere in the world.

Students of RMIT’s MBA graduate with critical, creative and ethical thinking skills along with authentic leadership skills that allow them to think outside the box. Understanding technologies that drive business change is also a key component of this course.

Where to now?

Now you know what an MBA is, are you ready to join the ranks of MBA graduates and discover where this qualification can take your career?

An MBA is valuable for professionals in a range of industries, so no matter where you are and where you want to go, an MBA can help you get there. Speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor to find out if an MBA is the right course for you, how to apply for an MBA and study options.

Speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor

Whether you’re ready to enrol, or just have a quick question, simply fill out the enquiry form below to speak directly to the university’s enrolment team. They will be able to guide you through:

Course eligibility and recognition of prior learning

Course structure and what you will study

Next intakes and how to apply

Fees and time commitments