Custom dictates that in this, my final journal, I should exclaim: “It seems like only yesterday that I began my MBA”. However, this cliché does not accurately characterise my mood. For it seems a lifetime ago since I decided to attend London Business School. Over this two-year programme, I have become physically tired, mentally fatigued and financially drained. I am by no means complaining; I anticipated and craved such a rigorous experience.
But there is one critical aspect of the MBA which the blogs, guides and conversations did not prepare me for. That was my belief that this educational experience would resemble other professional degrees.
It is easy to see why one could make this mistake. In common with my legal, medical or accounting school peers, I expect to have a career with tremendous responsibility and abundant professional opportunities, which is also well remunerated. However, these similar career characteristics shroud a fundamental attribute that differentiates business from these other professions.
Unlike them, on graduation I will not receive a professional title. There is no board that certifies my credentials. And perhaps the biggest slap in the face is that some of the most respected and admired individuals in this discipline do not even possess an MBA. Such glaring facts made me sometimes think “Why am I going through all of this stress and anguish?” However, it is when one escapes the cocoon of the campus and fellow students, that the value of the degree becomes apparent.
Conversations with friends and family quickly demonstrate my ability to understand better the decisions business leaders make. I notice that I am more structured in my thinking and able to present information more succinctly and completely. I am much more confident in my interactions with others and I realise how much more global I have become. From my Rolodex of contacts, improved linguistic skills and awareness of so many cultures, I feel I can perform well in almost any environment.
These reminders have driven home the unique value proposition of both the degree and LBS: an MBA is not trying to teach us how to work within a set of defined rules and regulations. It is teaching the opposite: how to go beyond the commonly held beliefs of how life works. I have realised this is what separates the profession of business from other careers. Our very success is measured by our ability to deal with uncertainty and create what has never been imagined. This is a skill that no certification or title could measure.
Acquisition of these abilities requires an approach that focuses less on gathering information and then regurgitating it and more on trying to maximise the understanding of this complex and ever changing discipline. I was unaware of this before the MBA. However, over time I realised that in order to achieve this I had to change my approach to both the school and the educational experience.
The first major shift was to manage the expectations of my courses. After a few semesters I realised that several courses in strategy would not turn me into the next Michael Porter. Nor would classes in entrepreneurship make me the next Richard Branson. It became apparent that these courses were not my chance to become a scholar, but an opportunity to gain a firm understanding of the components of this subject. In order to become more proficient in these areas, I had to take advantage of the extensive resources existing outside the classroom.
One statistic that reinforces the need for such commitment is that since 2000, approximately 100,000 MBAs have graduated from the top 50 MBA programmes. With so many individuals having had access to the same information, it would be foolhardy to believe this degree would be enough to guarantee success.
Consequently, I realised that any future success does not lie only in punctual classroom attendance and A+ homework assignments. It is also dependent upon how much I build upon the foundation the classes provide. The opportunity to do this exists within student clubs, optional lectures and academic journals. Once I began to take advantage of these, my understanding of the established and latest business principles dramatically improved.
In a few weeks I plan to join the engineering and construction firm, Bechtel. A firm in an industry of which I have no experience has entrusted me with a tremendous amount of responsibility. Why? Well because of the MBA. They know that this degree has trained me to understand and perform well in an ill-defined and ever-changing environment. Ironically, if I had been asked before my MBA if I would have joined a company like this, I would have said “No”.
This is because previously, my decision-making processes relied upon my own analysis of what I should and should not do. My MBA experience has taught me that better decisions can be made with the assistance of others. My decision to join Bechtel is based upon the career insights and networks of my classmates, alums and teachers. This points to the benefits of my change in approach to this degree.
I have learnt not to consider myself as if in a vaccuum. My past, present and future success has and will rely upon others. To get their assistance, I had to give it too. An hour here or an hour there, may at times have reduced my ability to complete an assignment or prepare for an exam. But the help I gave to others has repaid me many times over.
So as I write the last words of this final journal, I would like to say that the past two years have been tremendous. Obviously I appreciate how to develop a marketing strategy or unlever beta.
But I am even more grateful for the intangible skills of how to know myself and others better and how to navigate the extremely nebulous and ever-changing world of business. These principles are, above all, the most critical and really were the skills I needed to become the business leader I set out to be.
William McKenzie is a second year MBA student at London Business School. He holds a BSc in international relations from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. He previously served as an officer in the United States Air Force. In his military career he held several logistical and programme management assignments throughout the US, Africa and Europe. At LBS he is active in the Africa Club and co-president of the Energy Club
He holds a BSc in international relations from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.
He previously served as an officer in the United States Air Force. In his military career he held several logistical and programme management assignments throughout the US, Africa and Europe.
At LBS he is active in the Africa Club and co-president of the Energy Club