Consulting and the MBA

The year is 1991. Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit is the must-have album of the year. And everyone who is anyone has seen Silence of the Lambs.

It’s the economy, stupid.” is getting more airplay than The New Kids on the Block.

And although it doesn’t seem like that long ago to me, 1991 is the year I graduated from college with a degree in Electrical Engineering. It’s also the year that I decided to postpone my entrance into the real world for a while longer.

Getting an MBA

I decided to go straight through and get a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). I reasoned that an MBA would be good for me in the long run and there’s no better time than the present to do it. So I went through the application process and dove in.

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A recipe for a headache

Coming from an engineering background with ump-teen advanced mathematics classes under my belt, I was accustomed to equations with more Greek letters than English numbers. So naturally I thought accounting would be a piece of cake. After all, it’s just adding and subtracting, right. How hard could counting beans really be? Ha! Was I wrong!

The same could be said for some of the other classes as well. In the MBA program I had to learn a whole new way to study. Gone were the days of learning to solve types of problems and receiving partial credit for my work. The new curriculum required a new way of learning. I adjusted pretty quickly though and did well.

After taking some heavy loads in an accelerated program, I graduated from the program in 1992.

Fancy Wall Paper

Now, fast forward almost twenty years. Has having an MBA helped me in my journey? Would I do it again? I get asked that question from time to time.

It may surprise you to hear me say this, but frankly in the days since I graduated, just having an MBA hasn’t really helped me all that much. It’ll really surprise my parents, who supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually during my college years. But given the path I’ve chosen, it’s true.

Perhaps if I’d have joined a large company with a tall corporate ladder that has many rungs on the way to the top, having an MBA to frame and hang on the wall behind my desk would have mattered more. Maybe it would have gotten me promoted faster than my peers. I’d hope so, but I don’t know.

Instead I’ve chosen for the past fifteen years to run my own small business. So there isn’t really anyone to impress with a piece of paper on the wall.

But that’s not to say that my time in the MBA program was a wasted effort. Not at all!

The Value of an MBA

The knowledge and skills I gained while going through the MBA program have been invaluable to me as I’ve managed my own company and as I’ve served in volunteer roles for organizations.

Although I didn’t truly appreciate it at the time, classes in organizational behavior, marketing, corporate finance, and yes even accounting, have helped me tremendously over the years.

Whether I was serving as Executive Vice President of PASS or on the Budget Committee of my local church, having a good understanding of business administration has helped me to appreciate more, understand more, and contribute more.

This is especially true for technical consultants. We, on the whole, tend to focus on technical skills while almost ignoring the non-technical side of things. We increase our technical prowess while neglecting the soft skills and business acumen. When we do this, we do ourselves and our clients a huge disservice.

If you’re a consultant considering an MBA for purely the destination, that is if you’re looking to get an MBA just so that you’ll have an MBA, then you’re missing the point. Just having an MBA may help somewhat in the corporate world, but that perspective is still short-sighted.

It’s not about the paper on the wall; it’s about what you learn while earning the piece of paper. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

So, was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? You bet.

Giving Back

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Lunch with Aubie at a recent Board meeting

This is one of the reasons I enjoy giving back to the MBA program that taught me so much.

The College of Business regularly seeks input and feedback for how to make the program better and for the past three years, I’ve served on the MBA Advisory Board for Auburn University. We provide real-world insight and perspective that the program can use to adapt to the changing world.

And it’s worked. In the years since I’ve graduated, many good changes have been made to even further enhance the curriculum of the MBA program. I’m glad to see that happening.

And I’m glad to contribute.

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4 Responses to Consulting and the MBA

  1. Steve Jones says:

    Interesting story. I’ve considered one, but at this point in my career I think it would be for me, and not because it would help me.

    I also wonder what you think about someone that’s been in business for 20 years. Is it worth it still? Or has all the experience of running a business, learning about the non-technical things you deal with, educated you enough that the MBA doesn’t add much?

  2. Joe Webb says:

    Ooooh, good comments.

    You’re right; there is a third reason that a person can pursue an MBA The first was because they think it may help them to get promoted; the second that they want to learn more about business so they can do a better job; and as you mentioned the third is that they would like the personal satisfaction. Good point.

    I’m roughly the same as age as you, I think. And I know it would be tough for me to go back to school now. I’m so glad I did it back then. It’s great that you’re considering it!

    I think if it were me, I’d look into some of the executive MBA programs that are specifically designed for people with 10 plus years of real world experience. My feeling is that those kinds of programs would be of more benefit than the traditional programs.

    With as much experience as you have the traditional program may be a lot of busy work with little new information that’s directly applicable.

  3. Steve Jones says:

    I tend to agree with you. I considered one a few years ago when my employers offered it, but I had little ones ( $25k and it wasn’t worth the investment.

    Maybe some day.

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