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I received my MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in May 2009, and to say it was worth it would be an understatement. Maybe the student-debt burden makes the degree a waste of time and money for some, but I could not do my job without my MBA.
I am a property manager at a real estate investment trust in Manhattan. A building is a company. It has its own leadership, management, financial statements, marketing, operations, strategy, microeconomic considerations, ethical dilemmas, and communications needs. Each of those subjects constituted an entire required class in business school (e.g. Marketing is required, as is Ethics). My MBA was especially valuable to me as a career-changer. I had been a reporter, I have a degree in English, and I had never taken Microeconomics, Financial Accounting, and other business courses.
UNC taught me how to run my own business—or run a business on behalf of others. I am working with a team to manage a business on behalf of the company’s employees, customers, regional operations managers, developers, board, and shareholders. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in business school was in Governance and Financial Accountability, the professor of which said, “I can sum up this class in one word: ‘stewardship.’”
I am a steward on behalf of many, and that’s a huge lesson that business schools have to teach. Business leaders need time to reflect on the lessons of Enron and WorldCom and on the 21st-century ousters of Angelo Mozilo, Hank Greenberg, Harry Stonecipher, and other once high-flying chief executives. A two-year MBA program allocates time for this reflection.
Ethics is a hot-button topic these days, but dismissal of these men and others, as Alan Murray explains in Revolt in the Boardroom (HarperBusiness, 2007)—required reading in my Governance class—proves that the days of the autocratic chief executive are over. Alfred Sloan would not know what to do in today’s America, and Hank Greenberg has said if he had to start his career over today, it would have to be in China. CEOs are no longer gods—or even kings. They are servants of shareholders and need to respect that pension funds, hedge funds, nongovernmental organizations, and other groups probably have more control over public companies than executives do these days.
I only wish business school had taught me more about office politics. One thing I had to learn in the real world is that you can’t logically explain your way into a promotion or raise; you have to win the respect of everyone around you and befriend your way to success, no matter how many targets you hit or accomplishments you achieve. It’s not about the quantity of things you can get done; it’s about the quality of relationships you can build. It sounds simple, but I learned it the hard way.
My degree was indispensable, however. As an MBA I learned to analyze companies from the top down—their dividend policies, capital market challenges, boardroom politics, etc.—and that has given me a unique perspective and helped me make better decisions, as I have started to work my way from the ground up.