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The uncertainty of many questions. NOTE: This was downloaded from photos.com (Helder Almeida/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The uncertainty of many questions. NOTE: This was downloaded from photos.com (Helder Almeida/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Was my MBA worth it? Add to ...

Adam Janikowski left his job as vice-president of investment banking at BMO Capital Markets in Britain to pursue an MBA at INSEAD in France, and has written for the Globe about his experiences. He graduated with distinction in December.

In today’s educational landscape, there are a lot of schools that offer MBAs. Each school tries to stand out by building or maintaining its reputation through the offering of options such as joint degrees, multiple campuses and flexible learning. The common factor among each school is the promise of a unique business education that will help take your career to the next level. However, there is a common misperception among many MBA graduates that once you obtain your degree, the path to the corner office magically appears. Unfortunately, while having an MBA degree may help some attain this success; it is not necessarily the case for everyone. According to a 2011 study by U.S. News, of the CEOS that helm the American Fortune 500 companies; 174 (35 per cent) have an MBA (while 59 [12 per cent]have law degrees). Contrast this to nearly 200 (40 per cent) CEOs who have no graduate-level (masters level or above) degree.

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So the question is, why spend so much time and money pursuing an MBA, especially if it isn’t a guaranteed path to success. The answer to this is as individual and personal as each student. For me, the answer is comprised of three major components: rounding out my education; learning soft management skills; and, perhaps most importantly, building my network.

As someone with an engineering undergraduate degree who worked in finance prior to doing an MBA, I felt that there were small parts of business theory that, had I known, I could have capitalized on. Thus, doing an MBA complemented my engineering education. Amongst my classmates at INSEAD, the MBA program helped round out the technical individuals who were hoping to move into more financial roles post-graduation.

Another great strength of an MBA course is the exposure to management and business psychology courses. Most MBA programs require students to take a minimum of one or two organizational behaviour courses and offer many more as part of their elective curriculum. Courses such as decision making, negotiation tactics, and communication theory offer to teach skills that are vital in today’s business environment but not necessarily intuitive and often overlooked by many. Although it is possible to learn these skills on the job, studying them in a classroom environment provides a safe arena with instantaneous and honest feedback, something not often available in the workplace. These skills are heavily reinforced through the MBA practice of working in groups, which doesn’t happen easily in self-study courses such as the Chartered Financial Analyst program.

One of the big differences between European schools like INSEAD and many North American universities is the level of endowment and of government support. According to the OECD’s Education at A Glance publication, the most recent information available from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, European countries tend to spend a smaller percentage of their GDP on higher education than North American ones (U.S.: 2.7 per cent; Canada: 2.5 per cent; Britain: 1.2 per cent).

For instance, as INSEAD is a relatively young university, it has not yet had time to build a large endowment, and, similar to other young, private universities, it is therefore reliant largely on executive education. Executive education accounts for 50 per cent of INSEAD’s revenue, compared with 40 per cent contributed by the full-time MBA tuition and 10 per cent from grants, giving and endowments. Because of this reliance on executive education, INSEAD caters heavily to executives who want to learn management and business psychology courses. This, in turn, has created a very strong organizational behaviour department within the university and the courses from this department provided some of the more rewarding and applicable learning I will take from my MBA.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the greatest value to me of my MBA is the network I gained. All MBA schools, from Ivey to Rotman, from Harvard to Oxford, have a strong alumni network. Former students are encouraged to connect to help their Alma Mater and other alumni. This network can be very powerful throughout a career. The network of students that I graduated with has dispersed to the four corners of the world. Some are starting businesses in Africa and the BRIC emerging economies; many have returned to consulting jobs, while others have headed to financial hubs like London and New York. Regardless, the network I created in the short span of 12 months is one that will remain with me throughout the rest of my career.

An MBA does not guarantee any individual a straight path to executive success. That typically only comes with hard work and a bit of luck. Earning an MBA can be a great opportunity for someone who wants to round out their education, learn something new in a business-based environment, meet dynamic, interesting friends and even find a new career. And while earning an MBA for the right reasons can be incredibly useful, as it was in my case; like anything else in life, what you get out of the program depends very heavily on what you put into it.

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