Is There an MBA in Your Future?
It May Be Closer than You Think
by Eric Wright
In most career tracks – whether someone is an engineer, a CPA, an educator, or in sales and marketing – they face the realization that moving up the corporate ladder or growing a business requires a paradigm shift. The professional has to move beyond simply utilizing those fundamental skill sets that landed them in their career to managing people and teams, or to be more specific, moving beyond tactical thinking to strategic thinking. It raises the crucial career question, “Do I want to be a pilot or do I want to lead pilots and possibly an airline?”
Thomas MacKay, PhD, speaking to IT professionals, explained how an MBA (Master’s of Business Administration) teaches them to think like a business person. “As technologists, we’re used to thinking in a linear and logical fashion: ‘If this, then that.’ This logical mindset is essential to writing good software, troubleshooting technical problems and managing projects. Business people, on the other hand, tend to think in terms of strategies, value, and human (customers and investors) reactions. The business perspective, by its nature, tends to rely more on estimation, trial and error. Without this business mindset, a CIO is at risk of creating an IT department that is too rigid, too slow or too restrictive to fully support the company’s needs. An MBA teaches you to look at problems and opportunities holistically.”
This sentiment was echoed by Professor Ronald E. Michaels, chair and executive director, EDC (Executive Development Center) at the University of Central Florida, whose MBA program offers classes in Brevard. “Notable among applicants is their expressed desire to round out their skill sets. That is, we attract a number of engineers and professionals with specialized skills in science and healthcare. These individuals need to perfect their business and management skills and knowledge bases as such enhanced profiles are requisites for upper-management positions. Additionally, those looking to prepare themselves for career promotions or changes also look to our MBA programs.”
“They develop the confidence to create something new and to take risks that they would have never thought of before while also developing the important skill sets in an era when entrepreneurialism is one of our best hopes for economic recovery,” added Jacqueline Brito, SPHR, Assistant Dean of Admissions at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business. “Our MBA program also helps them to think more critically – to ask the question behind the question instead of taking what others say at face value. The Rollins MBA gives our students a broader global perspective which in turn creates a greater framework for them to work from. It increases their intellectual horsepower.”
With so many professions dotting the Space Coast landscape, it is not surprising that the major colleges and universities represented in this area have strong and growing MBA programs. Dr. S. Ann (Annie) Becker, the dean of the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business at Florida Institute of Technology, describes those pursuing a degree: “Our typical MBA student is a working professional focused on career advancement and a leadership role. He or she is searching for a degree program that bridges theory and practice for competitive advantage in applying for an executive position.”
Interestingly, in FIT’s on-campus program the demographic scale tips toward young male students, with an average age of 28, of which 64 percent are male and 36 percent are female. However, the online program, which is one of FIT’s fastest growing venues, leans the other way – with an average age of 36 and a male/female ration of 44/55.
Ms. Lena McKelvey describes her experience: “I am enrolled in the online MBA program, with a concentration in Management. I currently work as a division manager for Restaurant Technologies, Inc. I’ve been very fortunate to have numerous opportunities to grow within my company over the past 9 years however I have always known in the back of my head that obtaining a formal business education to supplement my Bachelor of Science degree would be paramount for future career success. So, I decided to take the plunge. To say this decision has been a game-changer, would be an understatement! I chose FIT for many reasons, such as the challenging curriculum, the class scheduling and flexibility (e.g. one class at a time) and the cost effective program.”
Flexibility in Programs and Schedule
According to the UCF faculty, “Our typical Brevard County students are working professionals from varied large and small Space Coast organizations. And although we require 3 years of full-time work experience before entering the program, our students typically possess 10-20 years of work experience.” This underscores that not only content, but flexibility of schedule becomes paramount to the MBA student.
Peter Ehrhard, chief technologist at Harris Corporation commented, “The PMBA (Professional MBA) program supported me as a working student by bringing the school and faculty close to me… An already busy work schedule and driving 50 miles each way to the main UCF campus would have made (attaining my MBA) an unachievable goal; the UCF PMBA program made that achievable. I can highly recommend that program.” Ehrhard graduated with the Class of 2011 Palm Bay.
Twenty-five-year-old Lindsey Barber, a vice president at Absolutely Natural, chose the MBA program at Auburn University, in her words, “mostly because of the positive impact it has made on past graduates. Other factors included flexibility, professional and experienced staff, and great football!”
Lindsey added, “I am in the program because I genuinely want to absorb as much information and knowledge as I possibly can, and the more flexibility the better. The combination of advancing my career professionally and learning strategically allows me to enhance the skills I currently use in my job which, in turn, benefits the organization tremendously. The program is designed for working professionals and executives. The flexibility of the virtual program makes learning more convenient to those who want to maintain their current leadership role, while pursuing their MBA.
It’s Not What You Know, But Who
According to Florida Tech Career Management services, “The average starting salary for a bachelor’s in Business Administration/Management is $44,174. An MBA average starting salary is $70,000. Salaries vary depending on the industry that the management position is part of.”
Nevertheless, the opportunity for economic advancement is undeniable. Beyond the data, which confirms the financial incentives professionals have for pursuing an MBA, one consistent observation that MBA students make is that the program allows you to network and build meaningful connections with other students that open doors and provide enrichment long after the degree has been awarded.
“In addition to the obvious benefits (credibility with business peers, learning to solve business problems, enabling you to think like a businessperson, and providing a ticket into a higher level of leadership), our graduating students report lifelong bonding as a cohort. That is, since all students take the same courses together in sequence during the program, they develop tremendous networking relationships that last a lifetime,” Michaels stated.
Barber agreed. “Auburn fosters an environment that requires closely working with others with frequent emails and phone conferences. This atmosphere allows you to expand your network and bring potential business to you in the future.”
Dr. Michael Slotkin, Associate Professor of Economics at the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business, led a group to Spain for a Study Abroad experience, which included MBA students representing campus, online and extended studies. McKelvey (quoted earlier) was a part of that experience. “This past summer, I was fortunate to join fellow FIT students in the Study Abroad program in Madrid. During that week, we received lectures from renowned professors from ESIC, an international business and marketing school, while partaking in visits to local companies. These are experiences I will cherish and take with me throughout my career.”
To Brito and other professors and administrators in local MBA programs, there is recognition that professionals pursue an MBA for many reasons and it may be more than trying to get a leg up on career advancement. She said, “People come to Rollins’ MBA to build new skill sets and increase their value in the job market. However, they are also looking for direction, looking for that next step in their careers without always being exactly sure what that is.”