Entrepreneurship is not only alive and well at business schools all over the globe, it is fast becoming the thing to do, pulling many graduates away from the consulting, finance, and marketing jobs that have long been the mainstay of the traditional MBA playbook.
But does the celebrated qualification, and its teaching of a wide range of business skills, give its holders a big advantage? And when would be the best time in your career to pursue one?
With such questions in mind, Real Business talked to two MBA alumni from Imperial College Business School to gain more clarity on the subject.
Mike Follet, MD of eye tracking marketing and advertising research company Lumen Research, explained that the title of entrepreneur often came with a cloak of mystery. Before starting his MBA at Imperial College Business School, he was of the belief that anyone becoming an entrepreneur needed a certain star quality that few possessed. “But once you take the leap you start to realise that they’re just normal people,” he said, “and the things they do and have achieved can be done by anyone if they put their mind to it.
“While doing an MBA, the business world just unravels and everything becomes less complex. However, while I would advocate doing an MBA before launching a business, I would recommend that entrepreneurs first gain some experience beforehand.”
This is a view often shared by business schools, after all, a lot of the learning in the MBA classroom involves the linking of theory and concepts to real-world business problems.
“My advice would be to put all your efforts into one skill,” Follet said. “The MBA will help you put the skill to better use and polish it to perfection.”
Follet explained that in order to put all his focus on the MBA, he pursued a full-time programme. He suggested that a break from the office was needed. This, he said, was in part because he needed to unlearn the belief that failing was wrong.
Making mistakes during an MBA programme has a much lower opportunity cost than making startup mistakes in the real world. As students, there is much more wiggle room to recover quickly than when you have constraints from the real world.
Consider the action hero: in every film, at some point he/she gets knocked down. Then, of course, knocked down again, and again. The message is clear: each failure is another reason to work harder and win. And, ultimately, that’s why they’re the hero. Acceptance of failure as a necessary step toward success is an ingrained part of the American psyche, especially in business. It’s no wonder then that the “heroes” of Silicon Valley talk of embracing failure, and many UK bosses have begun embracing the concept.
Most importantly, however, is knowing which place to pick for your MBA. He said: “Look around at the different places – research is key – and think about what it is you want to do after you finished the programme. As I was looking for a place with innovation at its core, I chose Imperial College Business School. However, it is paramount that you look for a place containing intelligent students, all looking to strive for academic excellence. This is where the real value of the business school lies – in the standard of its students.”
Fellow alumni Stephen Ludlow, however, started his MBA at a very different stage in his career. Having already established estate agency Ludlow Thompson years prior to starting the programme, he maintained that it was all about remaining current with the business world. After seeing his role within the company change to executive chairman, Ludlow also suggested that it required him to learn things he would not have necessarily known when he was self-employed.
After all, one of the major selling points of business schools is the potential to not only change careers, but open doors to other roles within a corporation as well. Pursuing an MBA will give you the chance to focus almost completely on professional development and provides you with the necessary amount of time and tasks for you to think through your long-term career goals, Ludlow said.
He added that if you’re smart about your choices, do a good job of aligning your interests with your past experiences, and don’t mind putting in the hours, then no career or role will be impossible to pursue.
At the forefront of his studies, he claimed to have gained a better understanding of strategic change and suggested that it verified the notion that no matter how difficult a challenge is you should just keep moving forward – something he suggested helped him in his career.
“Hopping on board an MBA programme is something I would definitely advocate,” he said. But unlike Follet, Ludlow chose to do a part-time course as he preferred to work and learn at the same time.
Part-time MBA programmes are usually designed for working professionals. If you work during the day you can take classes at night or at the weekend, outside of normal business hours, Ludlow advocated.
And one of the many positives of the MBA programme is the network of “progressive people” you gain at the same time. While the startup world is very open to mentorship, it takes years to build the network that an entrepreneurship centre such as a business school can provide, he said.
As was suggested by Ludlow and Follet, each type of programme attracts markedly different students so, with plenty at stake, you must ensure that you choose the right MBA for you. Take Imperial College Business School, for example.
Follet’s Full-Time MBA would have seen him study for one year. In terms of part-time choices, however, there are many. While the Executive MBA programme last for 23 months, and is targeted towards senior executives, a Weekend MBA runs for 21 months and can be easily tailored.
Whether it is part-time or full-time, both Follet and Ludlow are adamant that researching the right institute, alongside determination and commitment are paramount to starting an MBA.