The executive decision: why it makes sense to work alongside a part-time MBA
After two years of running a business, Heather Baker decided to study for an executive MBA at London Business School. She blogs about what it's like to work and study at the same time.
When I launched my company in 2008, my business plan was nothing more than a two page Word document stating who would own what, and what the entity would be named. I’m sure I intended to elaborate but once the finance was in place and the domain name registered, that all-important file was immediately relegated to a distant folder somewhere in ‘My Documents’ while I proceeded to wing it.
Yes, like most start-ups, pretty much nothing went to plan in Year One , and I found myself blagging (and blogging) my way through my first few years of entrepreneurship.
And it was tough. Anyone who has founded a business will tell you that the learning curve is steep, but in my case, with no formal business training, only three years of experience and facing the worst economic crisis since before the TV was invented (how did the entrepreneurs of the 30s cope without the Kardashians?), it was practically vertical.
Nevertheless, somehow the business survived, even making a modest profit. But after two years of ‘learning by doing’ and making what sometimes felt like every mistake in the book, I came across the Executive MBA programme at London Business School. I had often thought about doing an MBA, but it had never occurred to me that I might be able to do it without having to give up work entirely for a couple of years. This one, according to the marketing material, promised to fit in nicely alongside my day job. I had no spare time for anything alongside my day job, but the allure of learning the ropes of business management from some of the leading people in the industry prevailed, and I decided to go for it.
The first hurdle was GMAT, the highly intimidating exam that acts as the gateway to any MBA. I somehow made it through, landed myself a spot on the programme and paid my deposit, when it suddenly dawned on me what I had just committed to: over the next 18 months I would need to squeeze 62 days of lectures and around 246 hours of study time into my schedule. Where was I going to find the time?
Resolving not to share this little mental calculation with either my boyfriend or my business partner, I started reading. And luckily, I’m quite good at that, because I soon found out that the amount of reading required to complete an MBA would put even the most steadfast Kindle addict to shame.
Once the initial shock had subsided, I found myself balancing the sheer panic induced by the extra workload with the relief of being surrounded by specialists at the tops of their fields. And that’s just the other students! My classmates are experienced professionals (most have been working for around ten years by the time they start the programme), drawn from a cross section of industries (from publishing to medicine), and all highly motivated to form strong relationships and get the most out of the programme. Add to that the world class faculty and this makes for a rich learning environment indeed.
Unlike a full-time MBA, an executive programme runs alongside your career, with the benefit that everything you learn in the classroom can be applied in the office the next day. Not only is this possible, it’s actively encouraged, and I was delighted to find that many of the projects and assignments require students to apply their learning to real life businesses. As a real-life business owner, I’ve found this quite useful.
And the business is already benefiting. Sure, not every McKinsey model or strategic plan on the course is relevant to a media start-up, but the learning certainly informs your thinking, and, like most things, you take out what you put in. If I were to dust off the old business plan now, it would be immediately apparent how much I have changed and learned. However, perhaps more importantly, my company now enjoys a new HR management system (that has helped build a truly strong team), an improved approach to accounting, and a vastly more confident (if very time-poor) MD.
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