A is for acumen, but B is for booksmarts

Published on 17 June, 2007. By John Reynolds

Multimillionaires, chief executives and global entrepreneurs of the future were among the 15,000 students who took the Leaving Cert Business paper last week, but would today’s business leaders pass the test? John Reynolds set them some tough questions

Padraig O’Ceidigh, Founder of Aer Arann

I hope I’d be able to pass it, but it doesn’t examine someone’s pure business acumen. An ‘A’ student in business doesn’t necessarily have better business acumen than a ‘C’ or a ‘D’ student. They need to know how to source new business and how to tackle the challenges of setting up and running a business.

Entrepreneurship is a much wider subject than business, and as an exam in entrepreneurship this is weak. All I could see was one question that was for 15 marks out of 400. The rest of the questions are focused on business processes.

I think the questioning and structure of the paper is very academic. Business is very practical and not really about academics. It’s a good paper to see if people can recall memory but it doesn’t tell me they can deal with the challenges of running a business.

There were a number of sections including accounting, marketing, personnel, and bit about trade unions, but in reality all these issues are connected, they’re not separate.

Senator Feargal Quinn, Founder of Superquinn

I did a commerce degree at university and at the end of that three-year course I was probably just about capable of tackling this exam paper!

I was surprised by how much students are expected to know about certain pieces of legislation. It brought home to me how regulated we have become, and how much of a businessperson’s time these days is taken up by complying with legislation.

The best possible training in business is actual hands-on experience in a real-life enterprise. So an exam that is based entirely on “book learning” lacks an essential component, in my view. Business is above all a practical subject, but by reducing it to just another exam to be taken in the exam hall, we risk giving a false impression to young people of what it is actually like.

I’d be happier with a broader curriculum that included work experience as a central element, and an exam featuring questions based on the individual student’s own particular experience on the job.

Robert Finnegan, CEO, 3 Ireland

I think I’d be able to pass it because accounting and business were good subjects for me. The questions are more relevant today than in my day when it was more about Keynesian economic theory rather than the practicalities of business.

I’m not sure how well the exam reflects that success in business today is more about being able to relate to and deal with people, customers, suppliers, fellow colleagues; inspiring them, motivating them, leading them and satisfying them.

We look for people with passion, drive and willingness to succeed. Academic qualifications are important and open doors, but after that it’s down to the individual person. I’d hire a student who got a B or C in Leaving Cert Business but who had plenty of drive and passion, rather than an A student without any drive or will to succeed.

Aodhán Cullen, (age 25), MD of Statcounter.com and Business Week Young European Entrepreneur of the year, 2007

I might pass this paper but I’d probably end up waffling a lot. I didn’t actually do business for the Leaving Cert because I was too keen to get out of school!This paper covers practical issues like market research and the Irish taxation system, but you can’t examine whether someone is an entrepreneur.

Some of my friends that did Transition Year started a mini-company and did work experience, so it might be an idea to put that on the Leaving Cert syllabus.

I’m glad that no one asked me to describe three enterprise skills required of an entrepreneur. After all, Richard Branson left school at 16 and Bill Gates is a college dropout.

Jim Power, CEO, Friends First

I hope I’d be able to pass it, but I might struggle with the marketing side of things and perhaps the code of ethics question.But from the very first page where students are told how to answer the questions, it seems public sector bureaucracy has gone mad. Students are under pressure and there are ways to make things more straightforward for them – I know because I set exam papers at Dublin City University.

I’d like to see more on entrepreneurial skills and characteristics. Entrepreneurship and innovation is vital to Ireland’s economic future, but the people who have set the paper wouldn’t appear to be very innovative themselves.

There’s no mention globalisation or that innovation is the best way to compete at a global level. Without it, Ireland will be swallowed up by international business, so I’m hoping that it’s somewhere on the syllabus.

Another area not mentioned is corporate social responsibility and corporate governance. When the current crop of students graduate from university, these issues will have moved forward a lot and we need to prepare them for this.

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