What An MBA Can Do For You, And What You Can Do For Yourself

There are many pros and cons to going back to school, but if the idea makes you feel nauseated, consider these MBA education-hacks.

What An MBA Can Do For You, And What You Can Do For Yourself
[Image: Flickr user Randy Heinitz]

My business partner Jamin is a seasoned and wildly successful entrepreneur and CEO, which is why it surprised me when he recently returned to school to earn his MBA.


The thought of going back to school at the age of 42 inspires something in me that can only be described as nausea. Between the three partners at my firm, the most schooling any of us has had is a bachelor’s degree, and yet in the past seven years we’ve transformed our business to become the fastest growing technology firm in the market research industry today. Personally, I’ve started and sold two successful firms with no advanced degree under my belt and nary even a formal course in business finance.

Yet throughout my career, I’ve seen colleagues and coworkers cut out at some critical points in search of the MBA that they’re sure is going to be the impetus for their “next big thing.” But in doing so are they missing out on the “big thing” they could have accomplished by focusing more of their time and energy on their business instead of in the classroom?

In my business partner’s case, he had some incredibly valid reasons for pursuing an MBA, which had nothing to do with his confidence in running our business day-to-day. But what about those of you who think you might not have what it takes to run a business, yet?

Is grad school for you?

If you do a search online you will see just as many articles outlining the reasons not to get a MBA as there are articles encouraging you to go for it. You can likely guess the degrees of those authors in favor and of those opposed.

A few of my favorite reasons for earning an MBA include “learn how to get up and string a few sentences together” and “the chance to make some lifelong friends.” Uh–isn’t that you’re your undergrad was for? Likewise the argument against includes gems like “there are already too many MBAs” and ”pay is stagnant.”

In truth, the decision to go back to school is a highly personal one–likely not to be determined by five or even 10 random reasons from a total stranger.


So how do you rock the business world while you’re still determining whether you want to commit to an advanced degree? Here are a few ways to get things going:

1. Master the Basics of Business Finance

This seems like a no brainer, right? Wrong. Unless you were a business major, few people take the time to truly understand business finance before they’re tasked with managing a P&L.

With more than 430,000 business finance books on Amazon to choose from, if you pick up even one or two of the top rated books, you’ll get a grip on the subject pretty quickly.

Not a mathlete and need some extra support? Schedule some time to quiz your CFO or sign up for a MOOC–they’re both free!

2. Ask, Ask, Ask

I’ve been served well by my inability to sit quietly when I don’t understand something.

Sometimes it leads to me looking like an idiot, but more often it gives others the opportunity to speak up and admit they don’t understand either.


Not sure how to calculate EBITDA, or even what it is (EBITDA is a company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization)? Baffled as to the latest laws around employer sponsored medical coverage? Stumped by how to quickly launch a PowerPoint presentation in “slide show” mode? There’s no shame in not knowing the answer to something, but only in being too embarrassed to admit it. So when in doubt, ask.

I think of questions as the “fast pass” of the on the job MBA–no reading required.

3. Try New Things

So often we don’t step up to the plate simply because we’re not confident we can hit the ball out of the park on the first swing. But that’s baseball, not business.

In my experience, the best way to learn something new is simply to take a crack at it. A recent rash of business articles addressing failure and its benefits to progress, both within and outside the office, have made taking risks more acceptable.

In the words of Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

4. Put Away Your Pride

There have been times, frankly mostly at cocktail parties when the chit chat turns to alma maters, when I wished my educational pedigree was a bit more blue blood then blue collar, but that’s my ego talking. Sure, a Wharton or Harvard MBA carries clout, but is it going to fundamentally outweigh determination and drive? Maybe, maybe not. My uncle went to Yale and has blissfully spent his life as a mail carrier. A degree is only one determinant of success; passion and drive carry equal weight in my book.


Whether you’re thinking about going back to school or are humming along without a degree, your only true indicator of future financial success is your own ability to maintain forward momentum. Keep asking the tough questions. Keep learning, formally or informally.

When questioned recently about her perspectives on achieving an MBA (which she hasn’t), IMAX CMO Eileen Campbell said, “[There’s] no one path up the mountain. A master’s won’t hurt unless it creates unrealistic expectations that it is an end rather than a means to an end. And at least in my opinion, it’s also not a necessary requirement of success.” Amen.

Kristin Luck is president and CMO of Decipher, one of today’s fastest growing market research firms. She is also the founder of Women in Research, a networking group to help women pursue leadership, entrepreneurship and career development goals. Follow her on Twitter.