Sandy (Sandra) Dias is doing a Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA. She has more than 10 years of sales experience and has spent the past six years working for L'Oréal Canada. She is both a national key account manager and a district manager for Quebec and Ontario boutiques for the luxury brand, Kiehl's Since 1851. This is her first column for Inside an Executive MBA.
I wish I could say my decision to do my EMBA at Kellogg-Schulich was a straightforward one, or a decision made in a linear fashion. Instead it was a culmination of a series of events that took the shape of a winding road. Having studied political science and philosophy as an undergrad, and having worked in sales my whole career, it was not only the next natural step, but decidedly a necessary one.
Actually, no general manager, vice-president or human resources coach ever told me it was a requirement for my career advancement. Hard work and tenacity would advance my career just as fast, according to my company. Getting a degree stemmed more from an insecurity I carried throughout most of my career. No matter how many times I double- or triple-checked spreadsheets, forecasts or business plans, a little voice inside my head would say, "Are you sure? Are you 100-per-cent sure?" Every time I was in meetings, brainstorming sessions or planning sessions, I questioned if I was grasping the information at the rate others were - or, more importantly, analyzing it and processing it at the calibre I was expected to. I knew I was extremely hard working, tenacious and bright, and always delivering on high expectations. But what about the time it took me to get there? Would business school have given me tools to work smarter, not harder?
That led me to another set of questions: Where would I get the best tools to succeed? Why an MBA when I already had 10 years of experience? What would I learn from a group of students who (after some research on my part) averaged half the years of experience I had? Would I really gain more confidence from a degree where I would spend more time teaching peers, rather than learning from them? Add to that, would I have the stamina to do a degree part-time (four years) or would it make sense to stop working and go full-time (risking a two-year departure from the job market)?
Eventually answering NO to all the questions led me to answer YES to an EMBA. Almost everything fit: the 18-month time frame; alternating weekends; the exposure to high-calibre professors; engaging and experienced classroom peers; very high expectations from program directors; the capacity to study and not lose career momentum ... all but the price tag. I would have to find the resources to pay for school, or risk spending the rest of my days working to pay it off. That said, the more I read about EMBAs and the return on investment - not only with regard to salaries but from a personal growth perspective - I got excited. So what started off as a perceived need, slowly developed into a dream.
I also realized there was a personal aspect to this dream.
I grew up in a middle-class family of Portuguese immigrants, and my parents had worked tirelessly to put me through private school in Montreal.
After my undergrad degree at Bishop's, I opted to skip my convocation to go on my first business trip to Chicago. It wasn't that I wasn't proud of my hard-earned degree; it's just that after four years of blending classes into my routine, it had lost its lustre. A first business trip seemed a lot more exciting. What I never realized was that my convocation wasn't about me. It was about my father, who had never finished university, and about his hard work coming full circle. I only realized this much later in life - ten years later, to be exact - when my younger brother graduated and my dad said to me, "I finally got to attend a university graduation." So I decided then and there that he would attend my master's graduation, and I would make it up to him.
But just as I was researching programs, my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
My father lost his battle with cancer last May, and I decided life was simply too short to keep putting my dream on hold. I was over the moon when I received my acceptance letter and wished my dad had been here to celebrate with me.
Had he been here and asked me what I thought so far, I would have said: My first residence week was like living an episode of The Apprentice: exhilarating, tiring, inspiring and plain old fun. I have the privilege of sharing the classroom with 30 intelligent, generous, astute colleagues who will push me to elevate my business acumen. Moreover, although three weeks into the program I am already running on empty, when my alarm goes off on Saturday mornings, I can't help but smile.
Fortunately, my company is very supportive and my VP is eager to see what more I can bring to the table now that I am back in school. The expectations are, and will continue to be, quite high, as the program is demanding and prestigious, and the calibre of my work at the office is expected to remain the same, if not better.
I have 17 months ahead to decide if the return on investment is worthwhile. I believe it will be and I invite you read along and draw your own conclusions.