Getting my MBA was an enriching experience and a rewarding investment.
My MBA gave me a broad range of business skills, positioned me favorably in the workforce, opened doors to new jobs, and boosted my earning potential. It prepared me for anything that might be thrown at me (yes, a lot has been) and it gave me the ability to see the big picture in the business world.
When I decided to go to b-school, I was working in financial services. I enjoyed my job and I had excelled in the field, but I had learned everything on the job because my undergraduate degree was not in business. I decided to pursue an MBA because I desired a greater depth of business acumen and I wanted to sharpen my existing skills. I felt I needed to be more fluent in reading a balance sheet and understanding an income statement.
I knew I wanted a “generalist” degree and I didn’t want to specialize in one area, so an MBA suited my needs. I liked working in banking, but I wanted to expand my horizons and explore other industries. Going back to school for MBA would be a great way to transition into another field.
The timing was also right because the bank I was working for had been acquired and my job was apt to change significantly under the new ownership. So, in 1999, I said goodbye to my banking colleagues and I entered the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
It had been seven years since I had completed my undergraduate degree at Rutgers University, so shifting from the corporate world to the classroom was a big adjustment. A typical day at the office involved constant and high-speed multi-tasking: working at my desk, answering emails, making phone calls, going to meetings, and having people pop into my office who needed something urgently.
But all that came to a screeching halt. I sat down in a classroom and had to sit quietly while focusing on one professor for forty-five minutes. Initially, it was very tedious to sit in class paying attention to just one thing. It also took some time to get used to using textbooks again and writing twenty-five-page papers.
I quickly adjusted to life as a student and I dug into my course work. The curriculum gave me a sampling of everything from finance to operations. The program was also very strong in international exposure—from the classroom to the field.
Georgetown University has long been recognized as a global school and the b-school has branded itself as being very international. Our classes were rich in diversity and I frequently worked on teams where almost everyone was from a different country and spoke at least a couple languages. I observed how people from varied cultures communicated and approached problem solving. We were also required to do an internship overseas and I got to travel to New Delhi and see first-hand how a local company operated in the Indian market.
Overall, the two years I spent earning my MBA were exceedingly valuable.
However, leaving your job to spend thousands on your education is always a risk. I happened to go to graduate school during a tumultuous economy. During our first year, the dot-com craze was peaking and there was unbelievable temptation to leave school for outlandish job offers. Some did. But by the second year, the bubble had burst and I was glad to have stayed in school.
When I graduated in the spring of 2001, I had two attractive job offers. I chose the one at Arthur Andersen’s business consulting group with a start date in August. But as the economy worsened in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble burst, many of us got letters saying our start dates had been delayed. After 9/11, the delays continued.
I finally started in January, 2002, just as the Enron scandal was blowing up. Arthur Andersen plunged into turmoil alongside Enron and the division I worked for was eventually sold. Rather than take a different job under the new ownership, I opted to go back into banking. After all I had seen and experienced, I realized that there is no perfectly stable scenario and you just have to position yourself as best you can and use your knowledge and skills as best you can. You can’t fear taking risks, because things are going to change whether you initiate change or it is thrown at you.
I have discovered that an MBA gives you a tremendous skill set that is adaptable in any environment. It prepares you for anything and gives you the ability to see the big picture in business. This broad skill set helped me transition into my current role as COO of Hooks Van Holm, Inc., an asset management company. We specialize in residential properties that have been foreclosed, managing them to a state of marketability and seeing them through to the sale.
My MBA has served me well in other ways, too. After graduation, I immediately saw a 50 percent jump in my salary and I received better signing bonuses. Furthermore, my MBA has boosted my confidence and earned me respect in the workplace, especially in a male-dominated field like banking.
Overall, an MBA was a perfect fit for me. I would highly recommend the experience, but caution that it should be approached with the right diligence. Prospective students should talk to as many people as possible who are currently enrolled in the desired MBA program, as well as people who have graduated from the program in the past five to ten years, to see whether the program has helped them attain their goals. It’s also important to choose a school that fits your end-game plan. For example, if working for a top consulting firm or a specific Fortune 500 company is your dream, it’s crucial to find out which schools those companies recruit from—and make sure you apply to those universities.
Another factor to consider is whether you are on a traditional career path (working for a large corporation) or you have entrepreneurial plans. Many multi-national companies prefer to recruit from well-known, top-tier b-schools. But if you simply want to hone your business skills in order to start your own business after graduation, then you might choose a less expensive, lower-ranked school to save pennies for your start-up.