Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why MBA? Why Business Education? Is an MBA Worth it? - Article by Gerry Som written in August 2012

"Why MBA?". You may face this question numerous times, in different variations, from different people, before the pursuit of a business education.

"Why MBA?” your dad, mom and siblings may ask you, excited for you, but wanting to know how you plan to pay for your education. "Why MBA?” your friends may ask, wondering if you should focus on a job instead, and hoping that you will become an executive some day. “Why MBA?”, your spouse or significant other may ask you, wondering about the potential impact on family finances (“no more shopping sprees”) and lifestyle (“lesser time spent together, for the duration of the program!”). "Why MBA?” you may ask this question to yourself again and again, perhaps followed by, “Am I sure about this? / Am I good enough for this? / Do I have what it takes? / Will I get accepted into a good school? / Should I quit my job for this? / Will I obtain a loan for it? / Can I pull it off?”

"Why MBA?” your target business schools may ask you, during an interview, as part of the application essays, or Statement of Interest, because they want to find out if you have done your basic research, are realistic, and interested for the right reasons. "Why MBA?” your bank loan officer may ask you, before approving your loan application, hoping that you will pay back the loan on time. "Why MBA?” your boss or employer may ask you, before agreeing to sponsor your MBA, hoping that you will add value and prestige to the business sponsoring your MBA.

Before you answer the question to others, you have to convince yourself that you want to get an MBA and that you have your own answer to the question “Why MBA?” Before you sell the dream to others, you have to sell the dream to yourself! Of all the people who may have raised the question to you, the person whom you have to satisfy first and foremost, is you. You are the one who will dedicate the time, energy and resources for an MBA. You will attend classes, study, write the exams, and graduate from the program. You will quit a job to pursue a full time MBA program, or study evenings and weekends while pursuing a part-time MBA. The MBA degree certificate will have your name on it. The MBA title is yours for the rest of your life. Thus, it is important for you to have conviction, and a clear answer to the question “Why do I want to get into an MBA program?”

Different applicants to B-schools may have different reasons and motivations. Some may apply for the sake of the prestige associated with an MBA. Some applicants may apply in order to climb the corporate ladder, especially if he or she expects to hit a glass ceiling with regard to seniority, in a department or company. Some people may apply because someone they look up to in their family or circle of friends has an MBA. Some people apply because they want to have a Masters degree in order to stay competitive in the tough job market, where getting a job is an achievement, let alone a promotion! Some may apply because they want to start their own businesses, and want to learn the ropes.

Here are some quick responses to some potential questions that may arise in your mind. Can you do it? Yes, you can (provided you meet the required criteria to get admission into a program). Are you good enough for it? Yes, you are. If you have successfully managed to get a bachelor’s degree, and are dedicated, getting a Master’s degree should not be difficult. Do you have what it takes? Yes, you do (if you have scored a GMAT of 500+ to 600+, and got the minimum required score in TOEFL (for some international students), it shows that you have potential. Can you successfully complete a program, even if you do not have any previous formal training in business management? Yes, you can, and that is the very purpose of an MBA. You will be put through foundation business courses before you start specialization courses. If you were not the top of the class in undergraduate programs, can you still do it? Yes, you can. MBA is NOT about academic smarts alone. An MBA is about street-smarts and people-smarts; about drive and initiative. Even in an MBA class of 20__ (insert graduating year here), it is just not the academically smart candidates / graduates who will perhaps make it big, but the street-smart people, who quickly analyze the business environment, and adapt to new changes. What if you are not street-smart or worldly smart while applying? You can become smart by associating yourself with smart people during your program. You will have that exposure and opportunity. You have to find your strengths and interests, and build on them. The learning and transformation never stops.

Back to the question “Why MBA?”. Here are my thoughts, and I have to state upfront that all my views here are from the lens of my personal experiences. These are my opinions which may or may not apply to every pre-MBA student out there. Pursue an MBA for your own sake first, not for the sake of pleasing others. Do it so that you become a better you, or a better version of yourself, to have new life experiences, to make new friends from all around the world, from different backgrounds, to form lifelong bonds and extensive professional networks.

Get an MBA to get the backing of the whole University, with its hundreds or thousands of students, behind you. If you are an international student, you may not have an idea of how much it will mean to you and your career, to get that support and cheer from an entire University! Having so many new friends who care, and applaud your achievements publicly, bonded by a sense of belonging, is incredible! I remember having more than a hundred new Facebook friends on the University Facebook group, even before my MBA classes had started! Classmates who are the best of the best, handpicked from hundreds of applicants; Talented and smart people. Do you like being around smart people? Who knows, you may even find your wife / husband / girlfriend / boyfriend this way. I must confess that thought did occur to me before applying to 5 B-schools, and I did meet plenty of amazing people!

Get an MBA to become a confident person, to lose your fear of public speaking, to learn how to write business reports well, crunch numbers, do market research, perform qualitative and quantitative analyses, and use the results of the analyses to make decisions that lead to efficient work processes, better organizations, a better society, a better state / province and better country, where you live. Get an MBA so that you can walk up to people you want to talk to, without fear, shake hands and say “Hi, my name is so & so, and I am looking for a job in your company” or “My name is so & so, and I just wanted to say hello to you. What is your name?” Get a business education to become an interesting person, learn new perspectives, to think outside the box, to achieve efficiency, and experience diversity. In your MBA program, you will meet fellow students from all over the world. You will meet musicians, engineers, doctors, philosophy grads, perhaps some PhDs, some ex-armed forces personnel. When you do team projects with them and go for beer / pizza / coffee as a team, you will learn things that you have never heard of before, and that will stimulate new ideas in your brain.

If you want to achieve success in professional life, you have to be good at salesmanship and marketing yourself and your organization. Being shy, conscious, or timid won’t help. Are you a good salesman, yet? Are you a good marketer? Do you want to get better? A business education trains you in this regard. Get an MBA to know how the executives live and work, not as an outsider by reading magazines, but as an insider by actually meeting these successful people, either as guest lecturers or visitors or professors. MBAs graduates are well connected to executives in big banks / financial institutions, consulting firms, manufacturing or service industries, to name a few. Wouldn’t you want to get access to such type of connections? Would you not love to have access to the hundreds or thousands of successful alumni willing to lend you their ears, just to be nice to you, due to loyalty to Alma Mater? That is priceless!

Get an MBA to learn leadership in practice. I was once a very shy person, who preferred working alone, rather than in groups. But during the MBA, I was initiated to participating in group activities and understood team work better. You learn about deadlines and task management. You experience how it feels to be under pressure, and how to perform multiple tasks with tight deadlines. You participate in live business cases and simulated case studies, which prepare you for real life. You participate in MBA internships that train you for the real world, as well as give you a taste of what is to come. That way, you get to decide what you want to do, moving forwards, in life. You could become a Guru and mentor someday, and not just a seeker of knowledge. You will feel natural, and at home, while being in a position of leadership. Knowledge sure is power, and one cannot have enough of it! Knowledge is no one’s fiefdom. If others have acquired it, so can you, by getting a business education! That is the beauty and greatness of North America, where I now live. Everyone is equal and has equal opportunities to succeed.

Get an MBA to become an action man / woman, to take charge, to lead, to become a doer and not a watcher. Get an MBA to become a problem solver, an achiever, a go-getter. It is sometimes joked that there are 3 types of people in this world:

(1) Those who make things happen
(2) Those who watch things happen
(3) Those who wonder what happened.

Be the former. Make things happen. Become an affect-or, not the affected. Don’t be clueless. Don’t let others dictate terms to you, without you thinking for yourself. It is also said "Manage or be managed". Go out and manage. Don't be manipulated or pushed around. Stand up for yourself. Take charge. Be your own boss, if possible. Start businesses and create jobs, instead of begging for one. I have seen that side of life too. People can get desperate for good jobs, in a harsh economic environment. Discover hidden opportunities, or create some yourself. Participate in nation building. You can do all that from the knowledge gained from recognized business schools.

I can't promise you will achieve everything that was mentioned above, just because you will attend an MBA program. The MBA is a magical experience, yes, but there is no guarantee of success. Yes, there are perhaps some unsuccessful MBAs too. But a huge share of the learning comes from outside the books, either during the MBA program from your classmates, or internships, or after it, from practical experiences based on the stepping stone of business education. Somebody rightly said “Formal education will make you a living; Self education will make you a fortune”. I agree, and wish to further add that a combination of formal business education and self education is unbeatable.

Yes, there are school drop-outs who have made it big, but they are exceptions, and perhaps exceptional individuals, or were at the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. Dropping out of school is not a guaranteed criterion for greatness. Being uneducated, or under-educated for today’s job market has its negative consequences. However, there are a lot of well educated people who have become successful, including a lot of MBAs. That is no coincidence.

Yes, some people have negative attitudes about MBAs and hate them. I have seen articles in popular magazines, like “Do business schools incubate criminals?” How rude! These are inaccurate generalizations, in my personal view. There are good and bad aspects of every profession. Commerce, capitalism, globalization and, money are not bad things. Money is just a medium of exchange in trade, and currency, whether a dollar, pound, yen or any other, is just a unit of your country's currency. Is a kilometer, a mile or an hour, a bad thing? Then, how can a dollar be bad?

Modern business education is full of support for Environmental Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. MBAs do care for the society and the environment. Many graduates voluntarily take the MBA oath, with the intention to be benevolent to society. I have seen brilliant MBA students pursue careers in non-profit organizations, instead of going to work for investment banks or management consulting firms. If you pay attention in business school, if you are sincere and dedicated, an MBA will give you the tools to succeed in personal life and career. It will help you think in the right manner, head in the right direction, become productive, get organized, approach tasks with discipline, and make a difference. Not only will it help gain new perspectives, or validate some of your previous ideas, but it will help you shed some of your misconceptions or fallacies. You need that edge to succeed, whether you know it or not, yet.

It is also said that, “No one learns anything new without first getting lost.” True. Never get too comfortable. Never get lazy. Always “stay hungry, stay foolish”, as the late Steve Jobs said. Be alert and active in the classroom. I also recommend that while do you everything required as part of the MBA curriculum, be sure to do a lot of personal research and learn on your own. Talk to successful people. Attend conferences and seminars. Read biographies and watch movies / documentaries of successful people. Read corporate histories. Go online, and learn more about topics that interest you, and that are important for modern business. Worldly knowledge and street-smart techniques are not always available in MBA textbooks or classrooms alone. On top of that, the world is growing with leaps and bounds, and constantly evolving. You have to keep pace with it, even if your MBA books do not. For example, many aspects of social media have not made their way into marketing textbooks yet, even though professors do make sincere efforts to include new trends in classroom slides, class notes and discussions.

As a B-school applicant, if you are still in doubt about whether you should pursue an MBA program or not, don’t think twice. Make the positive choice. I say “Go for it!” Why should I state this to you with so much confidence? And why should you believe me? I state this from personal experience. I got a free business education due to scholarship from my business school, and knowledge as well as confidence that is priceless! I want others to experience the same, and to succeed in life. MBAs create value and wealth for society. There needs to be more of us!

Here is an analogy. If you intend to drive from, say, New York city, NY to Miami, FL for the very first time in your car, can you see Miami when you leave home? No. Can you describe Miami city yet? No. But you just head in that direction with the belief that if you keep going that way, and follow the signs, you will get there, even if you can’t see Miami yet. Eventually, you do get to Miami and are able to experience it as well as describe it! Similarly, before you start an MBA, you may not see the post-MBA scenario or benefits. Don’t judge yet. You may not be sure if you are heading in the right direction. It is so easy to get discouraged or disillusioned and give up on your dream. I do not think that a young mind can comprehend or appreciate all the benefits of business education easily, with a pre-MBA brain, from a pre-MBA perspective (no offense, I was a pre-MBA once, too, and boy, was I lost and clueless!). You may not have the full grasp of it! And that is the wrong approach to make a decision about your career! The people who counsel you to do an MBA, like the people at QS, are not just marketing services -- they also genuinely know about the benefits of MBA education.

Ultimately, you should choose what program will further your career, and what suits you best. If you have faith and head that way, if you take directions from knowledgeable and qualified people, and follow the signs, you will reap the benefits after graduation, and reach closer to your desired destination. You will feel comfortable among other executives. You will find the boardroom a natural place to be, you will not feel awkward in formal dinners and conferences, or dressing up in formal wear. You will not feel unworthy of big things in life anymore. You will dream bigger, and feel confident about making dreams come true.

It is said that “Success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Prepare yourself for the present and future world of commerce. Arm yourself with an MBA. Trust me, the future of business is going to be way different that the past! The momentum of innovation is too strong, and the pace of change too fast, at present. Whole industries will be disrupted / displaced, if they don’t keep abreast of the changes. Organizations which don’t understand the power of technology, and power of the internet, will be left behind. It may not become a matter of growth alone; it may become a matter of survival, for individuals and businesses to adapt! This is where formal education comes in handy. You may have to lose something in the short-term (the opportunity cost of pursuing an MBA), but you will have so much to gain afterwards, both in terms of tangible benefits (a degree certificate, a higher salary package, increased number of better quality job offers, huge network of smart and well connected people), and intangible benefits (respect from society, greater visibility, joy, satisfaction, pride, self worth, confidence, memories, and more).

The business world has needs fresh ideas, new perspectives, as well as talented and qualified managers, to lead the way into the future! We need Blue Ocean / innovative strategists, not just the typical competitors fighting for the same pie. As the world becomes a global village, interconnected by technology, and as international trade evolves, there is a demand for smart MBAs. You could be one of those MBAs, who can add value to society! Go for it! As experience has taught me, success in professional life is not a mystery. (Yes, I was a guy who once believed in good luck charms and lucky gem stones, in the past!). What the mind does not know, the eye cannot see. Success is the consequence of planned, and proper actions. I hope you shall make the right decision and get quality education. Do get a master’s degree, in any case. It will help improve your chances of success in life, as I found out. Good luck with your B-school application!

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