MBAs Can Lead to Career Change

Reported by Karen Gonsalves — Editorial Board

If you’re applying to business school because you want to make a career change, you are not alone.

In a recent survey of MBA applicants, nearly half those applicants — 48 percent — said a desire for a new career was one of their primary reasons for pursuing an MBA, according to the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants.

MBA students often use business school to catapult into a job unlike any they’d had.

According to a 2017 study from the Graduate Management Admission Council, 52 percent of MBA alumni work in a different industry or job function than they did before business school, and two out of five work in an industry they hadn’t even considered before business school.

U.S. News asked MBA graduates who switched careers to explain how business school helped them transition to a new industry.

Discovering a Passion

Satish Shah spent six years trading mortgage-backed debt in the investment banking industry during the years leading up to the Great Recession.

“In 2006, I saw the writing on the wall and knew very clearly that my industry would not be the same for much longer,” he said in an email. “At the same time, I felt I had lost touch with the reality of owning or operating a business. Mortgage-backed debt is a product created by statistical modeling; it is not something you can feel or touch or relate to.”

He applied to business school hoping that MBA would lead to a fulfilling career.

Shah is now a private equity investor and a co-founder of Spotlight Capital, a turnaround investment firm.

He says Columbia Business School taught him how to analyze and improve companies. The MBA program helped him find his true calling: reviving troubled companies.

“Business school was very meaningful for me, because I fell in love with a topic, which subsequently became a beautiful career,” he says.

Tapping Into Creativity

When Arti Dawson applied to the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan — Ann Arbor, she was a business analyst at Ford Motor Company, and she was eager to learn more about business strategy so she could contribute to strategy discussions at her company.

But during her MBA program, Dawson realized the idea of starting a business excited her.

She decided to use her materials science background to build a cosmetics company. Her longstanding interest in the industry stemmed from the years she spent blending foundations and lipsticks designed for people with European ancestry to match her North Indian complexion.

“In the back of my mind, I always knew that I wanted to be in the fashion and luxury goods and beauty world, but this was my chance now to explore whether I could do this,” she says.

Dawson visited the Zell Lurie Institute at Ross to ask its professors and entrepreneurs-in-residence for advice. She says they encouraged her and provided her with vital guidance on how to execute her vision. Officials at the Zell Lurie Institute told Dawson about potential funding sources and connected her with alumni who are successful entrepreneurs, she says.

Dawson is now the CEO and founder of SAHI Cosmetics, which she says probably wouldn’t have happened without the support of her business school.

“It is tough to be a sole founder so if you can put yourself amongst other entrepreneurs and bounce ideas off of one another, it really helps you succeed,” she says.

A Moment of Self-Discovery

Marketing and brand consultant Jeff Phillip says business school was a turning point.

“I didn’t think I would be a career switcher until I went to business school,” says Phillip, a 2011 MBA graduate from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill.

Before business school, Phillip spent eight years working on Wall Street, including five years with Goldman Sachs Group, but decided to switch to marketing in his first year of business school.

His change of heart came after a trip where he and other students attended information sessions with Wall Street employers.

“It was all very positive, and everyone was very helpful, but I just knew in my heart that was it,” he says. “I didn’t want to go back. Eight years was enough.”

Phillip had a friend with a marketing background and asked her to tell him everything she knew about marketing, and he liked what she said. So he went to his school’s career center and asked for advice on how to pursue a career in the field, and eventually signed up for multiple marketing courses.

Phillip says business school provides a unique opportunity for career exploration. “It’s basically like coming to a point in the road where you can choose one of eight directions to go in,” he says.