To MBA or not to MBA, that is the question!
Undertaking an MBA raises many questions. Is it worthwhile? Is the cost justified? Will I get a better job afterwards? All are valid concerns.
“Control your own destiny or someone else will” – Jack Welch, Former CEO, GE.
After six years in Dubai working in consulting and banking, I was ready for a change. I had spent my entire career in the financial services industry, and wanted to better equip myself to enter the family business. I was also keen to explore entrepreneurship, learn more about other industries and press pause on life.
The time spent pursuing an MBA at INSEAD gave me all this, along with the tools, the network and the confidence to push back my horizons, leading to the creation of the online entrepreneurial platform, MAGNiTT.
“Was your MBA worthwhile and do you think I should do one?” is a question many alumni are asked, and one that is impossible to answer without fully understanding an individual’s motives. I always respond with “What do you aim to get out of it?” There is no right answer to this question however I have never forgotten the response my previous boss, an LBS alumni, gave when I asked. “When you apply to an MBA you have to envisage a dream,” he advised. “The trick is to use the MBA to achieve it”.
The majority of MBA candidates fall into four categories:
1. The career changer – Those looking to move into another industry having spent many years in a particular field. These individuals are usually looking for the opportunity to learn new theory, to develop a network and to explore different career paths. Any MBA program will include people from all walks of life and careers and one should take the opportunity to speak to and learn from them all.
When a classmate announced his ambition post-MBA was to become a football manager, most ridiculed the idea as a joke. He then spent the year focused on developing an understanding of what that would entail and a network of people to contact. He now works in the strategic development division of at a top Premier League club still pursuing his dream of management. Ambition and openness to ideas is essential.
2. The entrepreneur – It’s not good enough to just have an idea, you need to be able to define and market it, create a legal structure and hire the people to help support it, all of which takes determination and confidence. The MBA provides students with an insight into all these facets and is the perfect environment to bounce ideas off colleagues, professors and alumni. It may even connect you with a potential co-founder to share the journey.
3. The manager – It’s often said you should “know something about everything and everything about something.” Many students are experts in a given field by the time they start an MBA. To scale the corporate ladder however, they need tools to understand a business from a holistic perspective. Confidence is key and understanding organizational behavior is essential to lead effectively.
4. The path searchers – For people with an as-yet undefined career path, the MBA is a perfect opportunity to explore opportunities outside the norm, and to spend time working out and shaping their dream.
Obviously these are not the only profiles. However if you resonate with any of them then the advantages are clear.
As regards the question, “What did you get out of your MBA?” For me there were four key benefits.
From an academic perspective, the holistic education I received was instrumental in my decision to pursue an entrepreneurial venture. Learning was supplemented with real life examples, and while I would have to refer back to my notes to create a DCF model or price a put option, I continually draw on the experiences, theory and anecdotes from classes, something I found invaluable while developing MAGNiTT as a venture.
And then there are the friendships. Everyone admitted into an MBA has a story to tell. It’s a melting pot of people from different backgrounds, societies, geographies and cultures all with the common goal of maximizing their experience.
It also provides a ready-made Alumni network. The Dubai INSEAD network includes over 150 members, any of whom I could call and seek assistance from at any time. An alumnus gave me a valuable piece of advice, “the best networkers tap into their weakest links and don’t rely on their strongest”. Take the opportunity to develop friendships with those you normally wouldn’t relate to. Challenge your norms and you will be happily surprised.
Finally there is the matter of confidence. MBA classes require participants to develop presentation skills and the ability to defend a point of view in front of a critical and demanding audience. Students are encouraged to have an opinion and to voice it. This is a huge takeaway and something that is essential to management and career development.
Preparing for the challenge
Applying to an MBA course is intentionally difficult and part of the challenge. The whole process from GMAT to interviews can take up to 12 months. A tip; search application deadlines and plan backwards. Deadlines for submissions are on average four months before the start date. Given an archetypal application requires a GMAT, personal essays, interviews and references, be sure to plan ahead!
The cost also requires some forethought. The MBA is not cheap. Apart from the fees, there is accommodation, books and the opportunity for extensive travel. Make sure you budget for it. Scholarships and preferential loans are available and there is also the Executive MBA option, typically a week every month or every other weekend, which allows participants to continue employment while simultaneously getting the MBA education and experience.
Returning to the workforce
Everyone strives to have better exit options than those they entered with. A good MBA school will support you with a strong career center, advisors and networking opportunities. The trick is not to obsess.
The true challenge begins when you reenter society. While friends and loved ones will get fed up hearing your stories of B-school, and colleagues may struggle to see the benefits of your 4x4 matrix, the hardest challenge of all is not to revert back to norm. An MBA gives graduates a truly unique experience, it is then up to them to apply it to the world.
About Philip Bahoshy
Philip Bahoshy is the Founder and CEO of MAGNiTT, an online pitching platform that connects entrepreneurs with investors. Raised in the UK with Iraqi origins, Philip obtained an MBA from INSEAD in 2013 and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics. During his time in Dubai, Philip worked at Oliver Wyman in the Financial Services practice for three years, followed by nearly three years at Barclays Wealth working as Chief of Staff to the CEO advising on strategic initiatives. Philip has lived in the UAE for more than seven years and is passionate about developing the MENA startup ecosystem.