There are examples of well-known legendary business leaders who didn’t get their college or university degree–they are exceptions. For the majority of senior jobs in major companies, a formal business education degree (also known as an MBA – Master of Business Administration) is required. There are other jobs which don’t list MBA degree as mandatory and, of course, if you run your own business there’s no one demanding a formal business degree from you, so the question is – how necessary is a formal/additional business degree? I kept asking myself this question for several years and here’s my take.
What are your objectives?
I figured out for myself that people join MBA courses for two main reasons:
a) the formal acknowledgment an MBA degree brings
An interesting (and a bit paradoxical) observation in my opinion – if you’re looking to learn new things in management, then you shouldn’t be looking for an MBA. Keep working and learn new things from separate highly-focused courses or read more—those are some methods for learning new things. It’s not that a formal business education doesn’t open new things to you, it does, but you’ll be much more efficient if you already know these and learn to apply them to different situations. I realized that it’s not that much that a person with many years of managerial experience may learn. It’s rather new perspectives we see – new applications of our knowledge, sharing with fellow-students (and learning from them).
b) expanding their existing people network (to be used immediately or at a later time).
Similar thing about the network – if you’re looking forward to build it from the scratch then it’s too early to think about an MBA degree. You have to have something interesting to offer to course mates. (I wrote a post on the value of networking some time ago that might help if you’re trying to network.) For the two remaining objectives (if they resonate with yours) – they primarily define the course or business school you should be looking at.
When I was going through my MBA, I made another interesting observation: it’s very good to get back to studies in our 30s, some 10 years after we graduated from the university. I found out I lost some skills, mostly related to finding & structuring information, complying with formal requirements for preparing documents (the ones not common in business world – like essays, tasks solving and graduation thesis). And refreshing these is very good, too. As we critically look at these university/business school forms, norms and requirements we refresh our view on the work we do daily. My studies helped me to improve my work processes simply because I’ve got a fresh look at them.
So to summarize my points – I believe that a formal business degree should be seriously considered by seasoned managers of some 10+ years of experience if they are looking for a refresh in their careers. And if employers care about their future leaders then they should consider paying for business education for them. I’m happy to share that (after several years of negotiations, considering various options and discussions with my manager), Intel paid for my MBA studies. (Don’t count on the same happening for you on your second day at Intel, but if you’re committed to your managerial career then you’ll have brilliant opportunities here, at Intel, including pursuing educational opportunities.)
So would you agree to my observations about the business education objectives? If you got yours – do you share my views on the outcomes? And finally, has your employer paid for your business school? And if yes – did it help to increase your commitment to that employer?