Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Will an MBA serve me well?

Truth is, when I delivered the opening remarks at the International Association of Business Communicators career day at UWI, St. Augustine and told some 100 students that they needed to find fresh ways of connecting the same old dots, I was in fact doing some soul searching of my own. As it stands, a mere two years before hitting the big 40, I too have been thinking about what next. What’s the next step in my career? The next score in my entrepreneurial goal post? The next big thing. And for a few shrill moments I considered a MBA.

I became fascinated with images of smiling graduates from the business schools that advertised the benefits of its acquisition. Principals at these schools crowed the benefits. My network, I was assured, would open up to the local powerful and influential (this was attractive since I earned my first Masters degree from a Boston university). Naturally, there was the curriculum, business schools had massaged their content. UWI had advertised for a lecturer in entrepreneurial studies. MBA students were spending time in other countries, combining their field of studies with languages. They were tackling interdisciplinary exercises with macro themes like globalisation and environmental sustainability. More importantly, perhaps more seductively, I was being influenced by my peers. It seemed that just about every professional communicator was going after a MBA. Anna Maria Garcia Brooks, the GM of marketing communications, and a recently minted MBA said to a group of professionals in her field that being elevated to executive management, "we as communicators, would, through sheer necessity, have to adopt a more general approach to our business. ….Continuous learning, beyond the field of Communications is crucial to making you more relevant, and in taking the profession center stage."

These were the benefits and like all they would accrue to me. Me. Me. But in all the analysis, there was one thing that was missing. You see, the thought of doing an MBA failed to excite me. When I told people about my ruminations it excited them. Their eyes sparkled. They were impressed. They pressed me more about my expectations and I began to wonder if I was considering getting the degree just to elicit that sparkle, to be part of that elite crowd that wore the MBA badge of honour. And then I had to write that speech for the group of one hundred 20-year olds ( a few were older and mature students) and in it, I wrote that "the learning experience was simply a journey into the discovery of who we really are." As I wrote it and when I said it, a veil was removed from my consciousness.

You see every day I study for my MBA. I begin my studies every day and at 4 a.m. every morning when I head to POS to run my communications and PR firm. I practice all the marketing theories as I contemplate how to position and price and promote our new software. I consider the human resource element as I grapple with attracting and keeping the right talent. I look at process mapping, benchmarking. Everyday, I get to be a leader. Mostly, I succeed but sometimes I fail and it is in those failures that I learn the very real lessons of management.

Author Henry Mintzberg, in his ‘Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development,’ was speaking directly to me when he said, "that when it comes to starting companies, the stumbling--not the studying--is what counts. " Bona fide entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Apple's Steve Jobs typically shunned M.B.A. programs because they're too anxious to work on their own ideas, says Mintzberg.Well an MBA work? For others, maybe, but not for me. I have applied for an MFA in creative writing. I think it is a good complement to my MSc which is marketing communications. It is also a good strategic fit, one of my employees loves publishing and editorial and I am hoping that she will be encouraged to further develop that arm of our business. My degree will add the creative element. Also my degree is portable, I can write and make money from anywhere in the world.

But for all that strategic talk about its fit with my current business model, there is an important factor that I failed to mention. The MFA excites me. And for all the wine in Tuscany, it is something that an MBA could never do.

Judette Coward Puglisi is the Managing Director of Mango Media Caribbean a strategic PR firm that measures the return on investment in communications and PR projects. She is the founder and current president of the International Association of Business Communicators


Dre said...

An MBA is definitely a
personal choice based on exactly what you have done, which is to look at your specific situation and see if and where it fits into your business and life goals.

For those 20-year students however an MBA is becoming even more relevant as the MBA now is as common as a BA and no longer such a great differentiator.

So in order to even appear much less stay competitive it may be a necessity.

Karel Mc Intosh said...

Yes qualifications may help, but at the end of the day, if you can't show your talent through your experience or what you present in the interview, an MBA may not add that value. This comes back to the same ol, who are you, how can you make things happen for yourself, and what do you really need to make those things happen?

IABC - Trinidad and Tobago Chapter said...

Dre, I disagree. Why do young people go from academics to more academics. Unless your intention is to remain in the world of academia then it is useless.

I would like to suggest that the real differentiator is what you do between your Bachelors and Masters degrees.

Did you use your year (or two) to travel? Did you volunteer? Did you start a project in your church?

One of my interns, Raycy Rosseau won a People's Choice award at a film competition. She was also an UNESCO ambassador at 19 and went to Norway to represent T&T. Frankly, if I had to choose between her and some who came for an interview having gone from degree to degree, Raycy would win. Hands down.

Jamila said...

Of course an MBA will do a young person well, I plan to get one. However in order for that MBA to be relevant it cannot be used in a vacuum. I view a Masters as a bride waiting to be married to practical knowledge and experience. Similar to marriage you may think you're good alone but with a partner you're excellent.My mom always says one hand can't clap it can only slap and after spending all that time doing that MBA who wants to be slapped?

Anonymous said...

M.Boyd of M.Boyd Designs and Concepts doesn't need and MBA he just needs to read the books and he's got it like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. However, contrary to popular concensus, we all have this ability.. the brain is immensely powerful and suggestible.
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Focus your energy on training the brain and the world is yours. You can be anything and everything in little or no time. No need for any five year course or lengthy training. Just download the knowledge in your brain, like Trinity, in Matrix when she learnt to fly the helicopter.
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IABC - Trinidad and Tobago Chapter said...

I enjoyed the marriage analogy Jamila. You left out one critical component though, it is only when you have a 'good' partner, one that complements you, does the marriage work.

Similarly with an MBA is it good fit for a 22 year old with no experience? Unless that 22 year has already created a business model or was part of a family business where she/he would have gained some experience then I would say it is not a good fit.

Anonymous said...

I see both sides and also agree and find that the marriage analogy is excellent. Nothing beats experience though and I would recommend everyone to gain experience in as many things as possible, not only academic.

Academia will get you only so far. You don't want to be a book worm only, all you will do is create spaces in your book of life. Fill those 'holes' with great experiences. Do things that you see as a challange, be daring, be bold, try something new every year; whether it is bungy jumping or kayaking or mountain climbing or horseback riding or just playing scrabble. Travel as much as you can also, it opens the mind and the eyes.

Remember - the sky is the limit, but life is too short, leaving you with little time to try reaching for the stars. Learn and grow, by encompassing all of life!