Finding a Job

I Spent $18,000 on Airfare and Flew 120,000 Miles for My MBA


My story is all about the numbers, though sometimes they don’t make sense — even to me.

I’ve always considered myself financially savvy, but credited most of my success to hard work, with a little bit of luck mixed in. I’m a serial entrepreneur with ten startups to my credit.

But when it came to evaluating new opportunities to take my business from $10 million to $30 million, I never knew the right questions to ask about how to grow—and any quantitative analysis was continually trumped by self-doubt.

So, at 43 years old, I decided to apply to Columbia Business School in New York, nearly 1,800 miles away from my California home. Earning an MBA had been a goal for more than 15 years.

My friends and family questioned the sanity of adding a daunting travel schedule to my already time-constrained professional life. After all, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and Stanford Graduate School of Business are practically in my backyard. But I didn’t think twice about my decision to go to Manhattan because I could expand my business beyond the West Coast. My goal, even if it meant commuting 1,800 miles, was to capitalize on a strong B-school brand and alumni network to take my business into areas I’ve avoided, specifically Wall Street.

I was accepted to Columbia’s Executive MBA program, which has a block-week format. The curriculum is identical to the full-time MBA program, but taught in a condensed format primarily for working professionals. I found it easier with the 20-month program to spend one week every month at school opposed to attending weekends or full-time. This is where you learn the intricacies of time management: dividing the numbers on the clock into work, study and free time.

My family supported me—even though it meant nixing summer vacation and rarely doing recreational activities. There were many times where I rode in the car instead of driving so I could read or write a paper. I fit in lots of homework and studying on my long plane rides.

The hardest part for me was math. I have always struggled with it, and a lot of what we do in B-school has a quantitative frame to it. After struggling with a midterm in statistics, I went for tutoring. My classmates, many of them 13 years younger than me, helped a lot.

The math struggles are behind me. In fact, my B-school friends tell me there is a notable change in how I approach important decisions. I have a better grasp of conflict resolution and organizational congruency (how a company’s structure affects performance), and know the impact global economics has on my business. I never really gave a whole lot of thought to these topics before, but I do now.

Business school has given me the tools and confidence to take my career in a new direction. I recently sold my computer forensic business that specializes in sleuthing through digital files. Now I’m doing what I told Columbia I would in my application essay: launching a private equity company with an emphasis on medical devices around the Type 1 diabetes market, inspired by my son’s diagnosis of with Type 1 diabetes about 5 years ago.

By the time I finish the program in November, I will have spent 300 hours in the air, flown more than 120,000 miles, paid more than $18,000 on airfare, stayed over 100 nights in hotels, and embarked on more taxi and subway rides than one could ever imagine. Those numbers make sense to me now—and I understand the math too.

Blake is a technology executive with more than 20 years of experience, including 10 startups. His new financial services firm, Cato Advisors, helps clients find private investments, restructure their capital, or divest assets. Matt resides in Newport Beach, Calif. with his wife, two children and three dogs.

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