MBAs have particular resonance in professions where continuing professional development is a way of life. For example, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) operates an MBA programme with Oxford Brookes University that has produced more than 750 graduates since 2002.
The programme credits expertise already gained through professional studies, enabling some accountants to complete it in as little as 21 months. Colin Davis, head of international communications at ACCA, explains that it was introduced to provide additional qualification opportunities to members of his organisation and other professional accountancy bodies (ACCA and Oxford Brookes University had previously collaborated on a BSc programme).
Feedback from recent annual training needs analyses completed by association members shows that business skills learning such as leadership and strategy is high on their wish list.
‘Anecdotal evidence suggests this is because members get all the technical training they need when they sit the ACCA qualification,’ explains Davis. ‘Therefore, if they wish to gain a competitive edge over other accountants, then business skills – such as those developed through an MBA – better prepare them for senior management roles. In markets such as Asia-Pacific, obtaining an MBA is almost compulsory for career progression.’
Chris Ford, managing director of mountain biking and cycling holiday firm CycleActive, says he has already been able to apply the skills learned during his part-time executive MBA at Lancaster University Management School.
Putting theory into practice
‘The MBA connects theory to practice, then immediately gets you putting it into practice in your own business,’ he says. ‘But not just any theory – you get to work with some of the sharpest minds in each field of business and tap into their expertise.’
He chose Lancaster following extensive research. ‘I was looking for the highest-ranking course with the best strategy offering. Once I had taken out the London weightings in the rankings I realised that Lancaster was right up there and its strategy team is world class. Combined with the structure of the course and the focus on workplace consultancy-style assignments (a topic-specific consultancy document prepared on your own business), this gave it the practical edge I was looking for.’
According to Ford, the strategic work delivered new insights into his business. However, he points out that the adage “you only get out what you put in” applies: ‘I made sure I had my team behind me, willing to cover some of my work, so I could make a real commitment to my personal and professional development.’
A decade after he left college, architect Attilio Giaquinto saw an MBA as crucial to his ability to take a more strategic approach to developing his business as well as improving his management skills.
His company, Giaquinto Architetti Associati, was thriving, but he acknowledged that he needed to find a course that could take him out of what he describes as his ‘day-to-day tactical mindset’ and get him thinking more strategically.
He chose ESCP Europe Business School in 2008 based on its presence in Turin and the availability of a part-time programme.
Giaquinto opted for nine three-day modules spread over 18 months with the opportunity to select 12 electives to be studied at any of the other European campuses. He also took the opportunity to attend seminars in Shanghai, Austria, Paris, Brussels and Madrid ‘because it would give me an insight into doing business in different cultures and markets, which was ultimately how I wanted to expand my career’.
He says he learned as much from the experiences of his fellow students as from the course itself and that the network he developed has already created new business leads for his practice. ‘For example, I am going to Mumbai to work on a villa, thanks to a contact I met through my MBA,’ he concludes.
Entrepreneurs often refer to MBAs as career-changing, but that was literally the case for Cranfield School of Management graduate Vivion Cox. Having worked in management consultancy and corporate strategy for a variety of multinationals and external consultancies and participated in numerous “fast-track” programmes, he came to the conclusion that an MBA would help him ‘decide what I wanted to be when I grew up’.
Cox admits that he found it tough to combine work with the course when he started in 2006, which was not helped by the fact that he also moved house and had a child during the programme. On completing the course he set up a consultancy business with two fellow graduates, Sven Ringling and Kieran Beltrame.
‘In the second year there was an entrepreneurship module and Sven and I were keen to leverage our Cranfield background,’ he explains. ‘Towards the end of the MBA we identified Kieran as someone who might be interested in starting something from scratch.’
Cox completed the course in December, handed in his notice in February and iProCon started trading in May 2008 – right in the middle of the recession. ‘We won some business from the network we built through Cranfield and since the fourth quarter of 2009 we have grown rapidly. The MBA really boosted my business skills, which have helped build the business.’
Striving for knowledge
Giles Hankinson was at the other end of the business development spectrum when he started his MBA in 2009 at Cass Business School, part of City University London.
‘I had sold my business in 2007,’ he says. ‘But when I started working with [the buyer’s] mergers and acquisitions team and discussions of valuations and targets came up I felt a bit out of my depth, having previously relied on professional advisers for this type of expertise. These guys seemed to be able to do it themselves and I wanted that.’
After spending six months sitting in on lectures and meeting faculty at the top ten MBA providers, Hankinson chose Cass Business School.
‘I needed a faculty with a reputation for finance and strategy and a school with a wide-ranging cohort,’ he explains. ‘I had always been successful at creating my own networks so this was not one of my objectives for the programme, but part of the course educates you in how to network and build relationships. Having the MBA before selling the business would definitely have saved me a lot of time and money.’
According to property developer Phil Audrain, running businesses can be lonely when it comes to having people to discuss ideas with. He initially decided to complete the first module of the University of Southampton School of Management MBA on a ‘suck it and see’ basis. Today, he is more than relieved that he went on to graduate last July.
‘I had been developing for a decade and the business world had changed greatly in that time,’ he says.
‘For me, the benefits of an MBA are incremental – it allowed me to develop myself through considering strategy. Having academic research to draw on and spending time with other individuals with differing qualities enables you to be more assertive about your decisions. I am now a lot more structured and analytical in my approach to business.’
Five reasons to hire an MBA graduate
- 1. Professional experience – the typical MBA graduate has five to seven years of professional experience before going to business school. They are highly committed to their professional development and willing to invest in becoming a better worker.
- 2. Broad knowledge base – the spectrum of modules studied at business school are so wide that a graduate will come out understanding all the components of a business and how it works.
- 3. Structured approach – MBAs offer a number of frameworks and methodologies to tackle business problems. Graduates have the ability to deliver structured analysis.
- 4. Industry knowledge – they will understand the marketplace across a range of industries and will bring fresh insight based on their background and learning.
- 5. International outlook – MBA graduates will have an understanding and knowledge of international markets and business to bring to a company.
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– by Daniel Callaghan, MD of MBA & Company – MBA & Company, partners its global network of MBA consultants from the top 25 business schools with small companies that require advice and assistance.