Guest post by Yvonne Krywyj
In a recent column
, Jay Bhatti, 2002 Wharton graduate, argues that an MBA is not worth the investment unless it comes from one of the top five programs in the US: Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Kellogg.
However, despite Mr. Bhatti’s words to the contrary, an MBA has opened doors for me that I could not have gone through before.
Mr. Bhatti makes the argument that an MBA was designed to create high-performing employees and middle managers at large, multinational corporations, but does not do much to help those who seek to advance their careers. I myself chose to pursue an MBA not to advance, but to change my career.
Unfulfilled after practicing law for eight years, I sought to transition into a career in social business, specifically geared towards poverty alleviation in developing countries—a far cry from middle management at a multinational—despite lacking any relevant work experience.
I chose to pursue an MBA to gain foundational business knowledge. After all, I reasoned, how could I possibly run a successful social business if I didn’t know anything about running a business in general? Going into the program, I knew that an MBA wouldn’t automatically make the perfect social business career materialize for me, but I hoped it would give me the tools I needed to begin the transition into social business.
Ultimately, I chose to attend IE Business School for two reasons. Here, I find myriad opportunities for students interested in social business and sustainability, the areas I wanted to pursue as a career. In addition, as I’d never lived outside the US, I needed international experience. The school’s location in Madrid and diverse student body would give me the chance to live in a foreign country, learn another language, and work with multinational teams.
During my year at Madrid, I did all those things and more, availing myself of every possible opportunity to get involved in social business. As a member of the Board of Net Impact, I organized Impact Weekend, a social business plan competition. This event offered me the opportunity to learn what impact investors look for in a social business.
During the summer, I participated in the Emzingo NexGen Program, a social business and personal development fellowship that placed MBA students on consulting projects with social enterprises and NGOs in South Africa.
My consulting project entailed developing a strategic plan for a new product rollout for Zazida Institute of Entrepreneurship, an educational institution for aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa, as well as undergoing leadership training and advising on a social business case. This experience afforded me my first opportunity to both work in social business and work in a developing country and to learn about the educational and entrepreneurship ecosystems in South Africa.
Because of this, I was invited to join the founding team of Next Generation Lab, a start-up that reached the finals of the school's Venture Lab start-up incubator competition. Next Generation Lab is an accelerator for family businesses and SMEs in emerging markets that is now launching operations in Johannesburg. Its mission is to transform family businesses and SMEs into engines for economic development and job creation.
Taken as a whole, my MBA was valuable not for the coursework alone, but for the opportunities it afforded me to plunge headlong into the worlds of social business and entrepreneurship in emerging economies. It is these opportunities, rather than the courses or the degree, that enabled me to change location, sector, and function, and land my first post-MBA job in my chosen field, a consulting project at Yunus Social Business.
While one of Mr. Bhatti’s arguments against pursuing an MBA is that the MBA only served his classmates well during their first job out of school, I would posit that if an MBA helps new graduates both secure and excel in that first job, it has already served its purpose. After all, when changing careers, it’s that first job in a new field that’s the most important and the hardest to get.
What’s more, just like the MBA, that first job is what you make of it. Opportunities to advance, or to find an even more fulfilling second job, will stem from performance and connections made at the first job, not from a degree obtained several years beforehand.
Relying on the MBA to provide jobs beyond that first one seems complacent. After all, the common sports cliché that you’re only as good as your last game is not without merit. Making the most of the opportunities that are currently right in front of you, rather than falling back on past accomplishments, is essential in order to succeed, with or without an MBA.
Ultimately, Mr. Bhatti is half right: an MBA degree is not a magic bullet. It can’t guarantee career success. Nor can it provide the answer to life, the universe, and everything. What it can do is open doors, even for those who don’t attend a top five school or go to, and stay at, a large corporation. Once those doors are open, however, it’s up to you to walk through them.