Everything I Need to Know I Learned (or Didn't Learn) in Business School

Okay, so I didn't go to Harvard. But I did graduate from that other Massachusetts university with such celebrated alumni as Tipper Gore and Hadassah Lieberman. Boston University may not have the brand-name appeal of Harvard University, but as the first in my Italian-American family to go away to school, it was the shining ivory tower.

Being the family collegiate trailblazer is a conflicted role to play. I was never sure whether I was elated or terrified. Of one thing I was sure: Blazing trails through cost accounting, strategic marketing, and financial management was going to lead straight into a successful business career. And, as a matter of fact, my MBA did win me jobs as assistant product manager at Kraft Foods and then as a vice president at Citibank.

But while my business degree might have put a societal seal of approval on my hopes and dreams, it didn't prepare me for the rough-and-tumble business world stocked with rough-hewn characters of the human variety rather than computer-generated bar graphs and abstract widgets. Later on, when dealing with sticky human-resources issues, that internal rate-of-return formula seemed less relevant.

Business school was about proving to myself and others that I could do it, to look at the picture of success and project it externally. Gradually, however, I decided that being one of thousands of vice presidents was not satisfying. I needed to combine the structure and confidence that I'd picked up at business school with my internal interests and vision. There were a growing number of corporate universities — about 400 then compared to 2,000 today. I had worked with several early launches of corporate universities such as Bank of Montreal, American Express Quality University, and even Visa Business School. My interest in them prompted me to start my own company.

Corporate University Xchange is part of the learning industry, and is based on the premise that training and refreshment is continually required. We're never done learning. A dramatic upward learning curve took place when I launched the company. Looking back, what's surprising is how much I thought I knew. What I needed to learn in the real world was how to train people, motivate my employees, and transform a personal vision into companywide success.

The business world at large is only gradually recognizing the value of human capital and how effectively managing these resources can determine the success of a company. Even Alan Greenspan recently spoke of the necessity of employee enhancement. Business school may have provided the tools for me to construct my business, but I was to learn later on that it's the people component that's the key to its ultimate success.

Jeanne C. Meister is president of Corporate University Xchange Inc., a New York City-based corporate education and research firm. She is the author of Corporate Universities: Lessons in Building a World-Class Work Force.

She's learning:

Meister's latest learning escapades include the following.

Tennis: Improving her game, which has been neglected for the past three years due to her work schedule. She went to a tennis camp this summer — sort of a boot camp for tennis groupies — and loved the video taping and support from other over-40-years-old athletes.

Parenting: She is in a peer-support group at her daughter's school. Her daughter is 12 years old and is going to a new school,so the two of them get together once a month to share their battle scars with other parents of 7th graders.

INSIGHTS: She's also conquering INSIGHTS, a 360 feedback tool that has been introduced into Corporate University Xchange to help their team grow to the next stage.

She's reading:

Coordinates: jcm@corpu.com

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