02/18/99- Updated 09:59 AM ET
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Hot asset: Anthropology degrees
By Del Jones, USA TODAY
Don't throw away the MBA degree yet.
But as companies go global and crave leaders for a diverse workforce,
a new hot degree is emerging for aspiring executives: anthropology.
The study of man is no longer a degree for museum directors. Citicorp
created a vice presidency for anthropologist Steve Barnett, who
discovered early warning signs to identify people who don't pay credit
Not satisfied with consumer surveys, Hallmark is sending
anthropologists into the homes of immigrants, attending holidays and
birthday parties to design cards they'll want.
No survey can tell engineers what women really want in a razor, so
marketing consultant Hauser Design sends anthropologists into
bathrooms to watch them shave their legs.
Unlike MBAs, anthropology degrees are rare: one undergraduate
degree for every 26 in business and one anthropology Ph.D. for every
235 MBAs.Textbooks now have chapters on business applications.
The University of South Florida has created a course of study for
anthropologists headed for commerce.
Motorola corporate lawyer Robert Faulkner got his anthropology
degree before going to law school. He says it becomes increasingly
valuable as he is promoted into management.
"When you go into business, the only problems you'll have are people
problems," was the advice given to teen-ager Michael Koss by his
father in the early 1970s.
Koss, now 44, heeded the advice, earned an anthropology degree
from Beloit College in 1976, and is today CEO of the Koss headphone
Katherine Burr, CEO of The Hanseatic Group, has masters in both
anthropology and business from the University of New Mexico.
Hanseatic was among the first money management programs to predict
the Asian crisis and last year produced a total return of 315% for
"My competitive edge came completely out of anthropology," she
says. "The world is so unknown, changes so rapidly. Preconceptions
can kill you."
Companies are starving to know how people use the Internet or why
some pickups, even though they are more powerful, are perceived by
consumers as less powerful, says Ken Erickson, of the Center for
It takes trained observation, Erickson says. Observation is what
anthropologists are trained to do.
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