Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why I Want an MBA

That title sounds so definitive. It should say, "Why I think I want an MBA." Today I found out that in order for my company to pay for this, it would have to be funded by my business unit. That will be tricky as my business unit is rather adverse to spending money. On a brighter note, I talked to someone in a different business unit, who is in the program at Duke, and he commented that several other people in his organization have also been through the program.

OK so here goes. I began my career with a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from NC State and Georgia Tech, respectively. I was very technical then, and I did well in my career early on. I enjoyed solving hardcore technical problems, and developing strategic and tactical solutions. It wasn't long before I was a team leader, a role that I performed with enthusiasm and vigor. I began studying creative ways to motivate and lead teams. After a significant international deployment of a solution I architected and helped develop, I changed jobs to a position where I was an engagement manager for a program product. In this capacity, I got to work directly with clients worldwide, building relationships with both clients and the product developers. It was clear that my skills were evolving to be more relationship- and management-based and less technical-based.

After that stint, I became an official project manager, and went through the Project Management Institute certification process. I subsequently was certified in my company's rigorous Project Management Professional program. Soon afterwards, I left my company on a leave of absence for 3 years to run my wife's stay-at-home-mom business Celebration Cottage which ultimately became a 14-employee company operating in 2700 square feet of prime office space. In this capacity I served as president, CEO, CFO, CIO, IT department, marketing manager, graphics department manager, printer repair technician, and building maintenance services technician, all in one. Oh, the joys of entrepreneurship.

So here is where I first realized I needed an MBA. I knew how to run that business - just based on common sense and my PM training. What I didn't know was how to MANAGE that business, or GROW that business, or OPTIMIZE that business, or TRANSFORM that business. After 9/11, our sales slumped, as our product line was exclusively a high-end discretionary expense. The technical barriers to entry into this type of work were also becoming fewer and fewer. We weathered the 9/11 downturn, but in 2003 I decided to return to work after my 3rd year of leave. I wanted the security of a constant paycheck over the flexibility and thrill of running my own business. There were other factors, but indeed, our business had grown to the point where it would require a more advanced set of business skills to maintain or grow, and I simply did not have those skills or confidence. So, I went back to my corporate job in 2003, and then we sold the business in 2004, at what I would say was its peak in value. All in all, it was a good thing.

I've been in first line management ever since, but most recently have a position as an operations manager for a large portion of our internal IT work. In this capacity, I am involved in strategic initiative rollout, overall financial management, and organizational strategic planning. I am being exposed to and have influence with larger and larger aspects of our business, including many global programs. I have continued to build relationships with people and hone my communications skills.

With the business we had, I experienced a taste of true end-to-end business management, though on a small scale. In my current role, I am working with senior managers and executives in influencing global business decisions and activities. I believe that I have the interpersonal and communications skills to succeed at many organizational levels in my company. What I lack is the technical business foundation that would allow me to think and lead strategically, to optimize and grow a business, and to manage an organization. I believe that an MBA will give me the formal knowledge and confidence to tackle greater career challenges.

I liken myself to the amateur golfer who never had any golf lessons, but excelled in baseball from T-Ball through college. He knows the physics of golfing, how to swing a stick at a ball, and has studied "How to improve your short game" articles in various golf magazines. He has played many fine courses over his lifetime. He scores OK, but that is really more on natural talent than anything else. It's time to go to golf school. How much better can he be if given proper instruction with the right experiences? Quite a bit, I believe.

FORE! I'm playing through!

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