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Why Get an MBA? August 8, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in International management, Management & leadership.
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I’ve often been asked why I got a Ph.D. in chemistry. What did I really gain after five years of graduate school? What was the value of the additional knowledge of chemistry that I acquired? I don’t think I was fully aware of it at the time, but looking back I can see that what I really learned was the ability to work independently without textbooks, manage research projects that I designed and was solely responsible for, and bring those projects to successful completion. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about when I first applied to graduate school. I was still uncertain about my career direction, and I saw graduate school as a way — albeit an expensive way — to postpone those decisions.

Fifteen years later I returned to graduate school to get an MBA. This time was different. I had worked in research & development, product marketing, and international supply chain management organizations, but I had come to realize that I needed more education in order to become a more effective manager and strategic leader. I wasn’t going to be more useful by learning more science and engineering. Technical knowledge is valuable, but businesses need well-rounded leaders who understand (or, at least appreciate) finance and accounting, international law, organizational design, operations management, corporate strategy, and even statistics.

I could have picked up a few tidbits along the way, but as anyone who has learned a foreign language will tell you, there’s nothing like an intensive, “total immersion” program. I probably learned more from my fellow students than from our professors. All of my classmates were experienced and successful professionals, either from local firms or self-employed. These were among my first connections to a broader personal network outside of my immediate work environment. We worked together on joint projects, and debated the differences between what we heard in the classroom and what we experienced in our daily jobs.

For me, getting an MBA was an opening to another world, and it confirmed my decision to pursue a career in senior leadership positions. I can’t say whether it opened doors or helped me secure jobs that I wouldn’t have been otherwise considered for. That wasn’t my objective.

 

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