Recently I came across an article from late 2019 that said people are ditching business schools and there is a significant drop in interest for MBA programmes. Even before the 2020 troubles of in-person learning, people were becoming skeptical of the MBA. Perhaps it’s because of the rising costs, which as Tim Ferris suggested in ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ could be instead put towards creating a real life business and learning from experience. Other reasons could be the rise in demand for the skills of Engineering and other STEM graduates, or the increasing number of schools offering MBA programs, essentially watering down the former exclusivity of the programmes.
I have a BSc in Business Studies already, but I still sometimes consider taking an MBA. But I also think that when it comes to business, experience is more valuable than education. I decided to ask successful entrepreneur Wilbert Wynnberg (Founder & CEO of FTBT Academy, AuthorRise Media, Think Act Prosper (TAP) Growth Conference and a bestselling author), who completed an MBA with Murdoch University last year, what he thought on the subject of getting an MBA today…..
Laura: Have you always wanted to get an MBA?
Wilbert: No. In fact I really hated the idea. My initial belief was always why would anyone teach business instead of applying their knowledge in the real world. I thought that being a successful business owner is what would qualify them to teach business.
Laura: That’s interesting, I’ve heard that argument from my own students before. So what changed your mind? And why did you end up getting an MBA?
Wilbert: After years of doing business, I felt there was some gap of knowledge, both in business and in my personal life. One night I was having dinner with a friend who is a successful business owner. He told me about his experience with the MBA programme that he took years ago. And he told me to try it out. He explained that it wasn’t just about the teaching, and even if the course content is useless, as long as you make at least one or two solid connections from the programme, it will be worth the money. One of his classmates from his MBA programme actually helped him raise a multi-million dollar deal for his company’s Series A funding round.
Laura: So was the teaching still helpful? Considering that when you entered the programme, you were already quite successful?
Wilbert: It was. But I soon came to realize that it’s never about the programme content or the school, it’s really about the classmates and the lecturers. One of my lecturers, Mr. Krishna Rajulu, who eventually also became a friend, had so much passion for teaching and you could see the effort in his preparation and presentations. He also often linked personal experience or recent events to modules to make the lessons more relevant and practical. Sometimes when I had a problem arising from work, I would drop him a text and ask him what he would do if he was in my position. He would give me his own opinions based on his experience, which I found really useful.
Laura: Tell me more about your classmates. What were they like?
Wilbert: I had classmates that were medical doctors trying to take on a managerial or directorial role. I had classmates who already had one or two masters degrees and decided to take on another one. Some of my classmates were in their 50s and 60s, saying that they took the MBA programme because they wanted to prove to themselves and also show their grandchildren that anything is possible with a bit of hard work. The older classmates were usually the ones with tons of experience and already owned really successful companies. I would say that about 80% of my class undertook an MBA because of the potential increment of income, and the other 20% were really there to challenge themselves.
Laura: What’s one thing you really liked about the MBA programme?
Wilbert: The projects. It’s the dialectical thinking and clash of opinions in discussions that you have with teammates that make you think out of the box. I remembered one project was about strategy, and my group was supposed to pick one listed company and create a report on which strategy to use for its overseas expansion and why. My group consisted of an accountant, lawyer, engineer and CEO, and we very quickly learned that “there are many ways to skin a cat”. Because we were all on the “same-level” as classmates, we talked freely and some really great ideas and suggestions came out. That was when I became determined to let that become a culture within my organisation, so now as long as my employees or partners are suggesting something which could improve the company in their eyes, they can say it openly. I think a lot of million (or even billion) dollar ideas are never executed due to company hierarchy or a closed mentality culture. I think as leaders we should be ok with being challenged, as long as all of us are doing it for the betterment of the company.
Laura: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone considering doing an MBA now?
Wilbert: Only do it if you know that you can make the best out of it. Don’t do it due to a “mid-life” crisis, peer pressure or because you are trying to “show off”. You will end up miserable. Because even if you get that MBA, if you don’t make full use of the knowledge and connections available to you, it will just be a waste of time and money. My MBA degree has allowed me to brand myself better. I eventually got to do business with some of the people I met through the programme as well. Also, I managed to close the knowledge gaps that I previously had prior to my MBA, which has led to better efficiency and increased revenues for my company. I reckon that I’ve already generated returns of more than 10x, compared to the cost of taking it. But that’s because I had very clear goals prior to taking the programme.
Laura: So what about the cost — Do you really think MBA’s are worth the money?
Wilbert: Assuming your MBA sets you back $50,000 to $100,000 US dollars, could you have used that money differently, like maybe start a business and learn from a more hands on approach? You most certainly could. That’s what I did. I started my business and through the process, up and down, I learnt a lot about the world of business and leadership. But an MBA degree can still give you important information that you can’t get from real life. As I said before, one aspect is the connections you make. Imagine if you have a group of CEO’s in a room, discussing different strategies they made their pots of gold from. They have different approaches and come from different industries, so have different outlooks on problem solving and market opportunities — that’s a priceless experience. What you do during your MBA is important, but what you do with it after the programme is even more important. Turning the knowledge into wisdom and staying in touch with your classmates is where the true value is. Ultimately, every decision we make should be based on ROI — how much time is invested vs how much of what we want to get out of it, is being achieved. Money invested in an MBA can be money coming back to you in a different way — in a direct or indirect form.
Laura: Thanks for your time Wilbert. I’m sure those considering taking an MBA today will hopefully have a clearer idea on whether it’s right for them. Where can people find you?