Thursday, January 9, 2014

So what was that MBA about, anyway?

Some of my students from the last graduate class I taught at Rockhurst University are coming up on their MBA graduation in a few months and I thought an article outlining my course load might be enlightening to those friends and families who lost nights and weekends with us over a 2-3 year period.

Saint Louis University has a total of 45 graduate credit hours (actually, as I wrote this I realized these requirements change sometimes - and indeed, it's a little different going into 2014, but it's still very similar).  Some of these credit requirements can be fulfilled by a combination of undergraduate classes (Quantitative Methods could be fulfilled by two undergraduate classes that covered the scope of the course, for example, phew.) while others could be fulfilled by actual graduate classes you took at other schools (I took some electives at Rockhurst when I was in Kansas City).

I thought the simplest way to look at these courses would be a one sentence takeaway from each class rather than a rendition of my coursework or professors.  When I had a particularly memorable professor, I mentioned him/her.  Some of these takeaways will seem obvious to you - and you might say, "You had to take a graduate level class to figure that out?"  Fair enough.  But sometimes you think you know something, for example, that leaders are born, not made.  But taking an OB (Organizational Behavior) class showed me, scientifically, that it isn't that glib or simple.  Indeed, leadership can be learned, in the vein of Aristotle's famous musing that excellence is not an act, but a habit.  Or take my Effective Communication for Leaders class.  I had been speaking publicly and giving presentations for years, so I felt this was just a "gimme" class.  But it was anything but.  We watched so many poor examples of presentations - saw thoughtless slides, bad grammar, and points that were anything but powerful.  I constantly reference lessons from that class whenever I create a powerpoint (I don't like them, but sometimes I'm asked to make them).

Foundation Courses
ACCT-501: Accounting for Managers
Know your books and how to read them
MBA-502: Quantitative Methods/Statistics
Sometimes you have to take certain soul-stealing classes in order to obtain a degree
ECON-501: Economics for Managers
What are the larger (and smaller) things that influence the market and the economy?
DSCI-501: Operations Management
All automation starts with human assumptions

With the namesake of our school
of business, John Cook
Breadth Courses
ITM-600 Managing Information Technology (Prof. Hardaway, can be eccentric and grouchy, but virtually limitless in knowledge about IT and ultimately good-hearted)
The leaders of the future will innovate in tech, not let tech happen to them
FIN-600 Financial Management
See MBA-502
IB-600 Global Business Environment (Prof. Mamoun, amazing)
We are global now and that means cultural literacy matters
MGT-600 Management
Management is a science consistently asking for perfection in interaction with imperfect beings
MKT-600 Marketing Management
Always be evaluating your approach and never take your competition for granted

Required Courses
MBA-605 Legal, Ethical, and Professional Environment of Business
Seek legal advice and counsel on your most important corporate decisions
MGT-606 Capstone (I was blessed with the most competent teammates I had ever had in formal studies)
Sometimes companies can run for years with incompetent management

BUS-6020 Effective Communication for Leaders (Prof. Lampe, love her)
Make presentations simple and correct
MG-6100 Leadership and Organizational Behavior (Prof. Perry was incredibly patient at hearing you out when were saying things he completely disagreed with)
Leadership can, indeed, be learned
MG-6060/6900 Corporate Social Responsibility (Prof. Sasse: patient and fair)
If corporations are granted an infinite life as a person, then they have the corresponding duties of a person - and a citizen
IB-642 Global Environment Strategy (Prof. Alhorr, awesome)
Know additional languages and cultures because the world is flatter than it's ever been

I'm always asked, "Was it worth it?"  For me, that's an unqualified yes, but I need to explain.  Firstly, entrepreneurs don't generally go for the advanced degree (many don't even have an undergraduate degree, gasp!).  Some, after they've sold a company, do precisely that: take some time off and find out what student life is like.  Others eschew it.  Josh Kaufman wrote an excellent book advocating the learning of b-school lessons outside of formal classroom instruction (yes, you should read it, even if you have an MBA already, you know-it-all).  But me, I had come to business rather late in my 20s and as such felt there were some holes that needed to be gapped and my MBA did that.  Secondly, it was the culmination of my MBA that connected some dots to help me prep my business for an eventual sale, which came the year after I finished that degree.  I attribute the readiness of my company for sale directly to the final semester of my MBA and the interconnecting lessons that helped me strategize differently about my company's direction at that time.

Some may tell you it wasn't worth it.  I've written different pieces on things to think about before pursuing one.  I can state that if your reasons weren't sound going in (I need to tread water because I'm unemployed; I think it will be "good" for my resume) I won't be terribly surprised if you are discontented with your degree that is now, along with the J.D., one of the most diluted in the United States.  But if your reasons were sound (guaranteed promotion path at my firm; company is willing to pay for it) you may have found some other reasons on the journey that made it all worthwhile.

I continue to remark that I have yet to reap the massive networking harvest so famously touted by MBA programs, but I have made some friends for life, some solid networking connections, and have been blessed to be able to teach some rewarding graduate Entrepreneurship courses platformed by having that MBA.  So almost 3 years after I finished most of my coursework I am indeed grateful I obtained mine: the lessons I learned in the classroom, the friends and colleagues I obtained, and the out-of-class opportunities that SLU offered made my MBA a difficult but proud accomplishment.

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