I came for a degree, but I left with an education. I can’t think of any other way to better sum up the past two years at Columbia Business School.
I started work at a fintech focused venture capital firm the day after graduation. A bit ahead of schedule, this allowed me some very quick perspective on what might have been the most “valuable” parts of my Columbia MBA. I felt compelled to share my perspective as I usually hear the same trite reasons recited for why to get a MBA. Too often, it misses the mark.
Even Columbia Business School itself is not great at pitching or capturing the true “value proposition” it offers its students. Reader Beware: you will find nothing in this post about career switching, a two year vacation, the power of the network, an Ivy League stamp, or any of the other commonly held reasons why one might pursue a top-tier MBA.
Today’s globalized world of elastic computing and unencumbered, free flowing information moves at a unprecedented pace. Invariably, this creates more unknowns than knowns. I’ve come to realize that the past two years have taught me how to analyze problems and structure my thought process in the face of a lot of these unknowns.
There’s more data at our fingertips today than at any point before in the history of the human race. That fact should both simultaneously scare and excite us. More data isn’t necessarily a good thing in and of itself. Unfortunately, data doesn’t speak for itself, and there is rarely an easily identifiable “truth” within it. It is the job of our business leaders to interpret it and find the “signal” within the noise. For this reason alone, a broad-based business education in the 21st century will NEVER be antiquated.
A new demographic and financial paradigm (much caused by aging baby boomers living longer and the fall out of the Great Recession), global warming, and the rise of automated machine technology are to me the three biggest issues and opportunities facing my “millennial generation.” I feel better prepared today to tackle these three issues than I was two years ago given my coursework and exposure. Sure, my degree did not teach me how to save a life via open-heart surgery (good thing, I don’t have the steady hands for that anyway); but the problems I can now help address are of no less importance, and arguably of a much larger scale.
If you asked my mother, she would tell you I got a Masters at Columbia in travel, food, and night clubs. While not untrue, it’s a bit of an over-simplification of my two years. I traveled to 5 different continents and more than 20 different countries. Granted for most of those trips, I didn’t see much of the daylight (that VAMPIRE life, CC: Andrew Robinson, Eiman Behmanesh, Drew Lessard). But I left school with a global perspective of how people conduct themselves around the world and what drives their inner being — literally what it is that makes certain people tick and forms the lens through which they may view all that data I referenced above.
I broke down my own stereotypes I didn’t even realize I held about the world. Brazil and Colombia weren’t scary places, but rather two of my favorite and most beautiful places in the world. China wasn’t a backwards world, but rather a home to very economically rational individuals with a respect for prudence and process that Americans too often overlook.
None of this means it was all gravy. There were times when I felt too old to be sitting in a classroom. I personally hated orientation —the year and half right before businesses school I spent being my own boss. Well, mostly playing poker. I didn’t like someone telling me when I could and could not go to the bathroom. At least some portion of the time I spent feeling like I wasn’t type-A enough to be a top business school student. I hated that some of my classmates (very small minority, so thanks for that selection bias Columbia) would make comments just to hear themselves talk or to “sound smart.”
Oh, and I will also never forgive Columbia’s Career Management Center (CMC) for never reaching out to me post-graduation to just simply see if I was employed. Kinda makes me doubt our employment report. I’m assuming that part can’t be real and is just a mistake. I never leveraged any of their resources, but where are you at CMC? Please advise.
I told myself before school that if I left with two or three life-long friendships I would have gotten my money’s worth. I made an honest effort to get to know pretty much all of my classmates, and yes as a result I left with an expansive network inclusive of people whom I am certain will go on to do extremely impressive things. But most important to me is that I left with more than a handful of true friends, most of which like me weren’t your “typically b-school” people.
For me, the ROI of my MBA wound up being readily apparent the day after graduation. It was a surprise full-time opportunity in venture capital, a tiny and heavily competitive field I probably had no chance of breaking into with a somewhat unconventional background. But if Security Analysis with Mauboussin taught me anything it was to recognize the element of luck in both investing and life, and always separate inherent process from actual outcome. The “true ROI” of my MBA is likely something much greater, yet harder to define than today’s tangible benefits.
I came in looking for something very specific from my Columbia MBA — specifically, some time off plus an Ivy League check mark that I felt my resume was always missing. I left with something that was much different. I came for a degree, but I truly left with an education.