Why Enterprise-building is More Valuable than Management Consulting in MBA Essays

An oldie from the files, but still as relevant as it ever was to MBA applicants framing their career goals: why an enterprise-building career goal is more valuable than a management consulting career goal in MBA Admissions…

The Economist obituary of Swatch magnate Nicolas Hayek offers me a concrete example to explain why management consulting is a medium-to-weak long-term goal for MBA admissions.

In 1982 Hayek was brought in as a management consultant by a group of banks to advise them on the sale of Switzerland’s last big watchmaking conglomerate which they had bailed out a few years earlier. But, rather than merely consult on sale-exit strategies, Hayek created and led a group of industrialists who bought the conglomerate from the bankers, and built it into the world’s largest watch company, with almost a quarter of the global market, with Swatch as the lead brand.

As the Economist says: “Mr Hayek’s strategy of making cheap watches more cheaply and expensive watches more desirable helped lift the rest of the Swiss watch industry, which is once again leading the world. Last year Swiss firms exported nearly 23m timepieces worth more than $12 billion, a figure that would undoubtedly have been far, far smaller had Mr Hayek stayed in management consulting.”

The point is: Hayek had two careers ahead of him in 1982. He could have stayed a management consultant, advising on deals, for a fairly prestigious, reasonably well-paid life. Or he could do what he did: turn the ailing consortium around through industry-innovative operations, cost restructuring, and marketing management, to totally renew the Swiss watch industry. He was a leader, innovator, decision-maker, and business-builder at the ultimate level.

If Hayek was to have presented his career options to Harvard or INSEAD or LBS adcoms, which of the two routes do you think the they would have favored more?

It’s fine to say you want to spend some time in MC in the short term, taking advantage of the rapid exposure to different industries and skills. But at the end of the day, management consultants are advisors, not doers. They are always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

If Hayes had stayed a management consultant his value to everyone, including his MBA alma mater, would have been a fraction of what it became, and his obituary would never have been splashed across the world’s financial media.

When the admissions committee of a top MBA program is looking at you, they want to think that you may possibly one day be somebody like Hayes (in your own industry and in your own way.)

If your career goal is consulting itself, you are telling them there is no chance of that.

How To Get Your Company On-board With Your MBA? Good Tips From The Judge School, Cambridge

I came across a little gem for getting company buy-in and maybe even financial support for your MBA, on the Cambridge Judge School site.

View the specific Judge School page here, alternatively the fuller pdf document, which remarks “even if you’re not sponsored you’ll need to secure your employer’s understanding and support.

“Therefore, in preparing to join an Executive MBA programme one of your priorities will be to seek support from your employer, possibly financial support, but definitely the support to allow you to commit the time required.

“You’ll need to demonstrate how your employer will benefit from you gaining an MBA.”

The text is oriented towards EMBA applicants, and obviously references Cambridge Judge specifically, but the observations are widely relevant to managing employer perceptions anywhere, for all forms of MBA, at any business school.

Note also that many of the topics overlap with those you need to attend to in writing good MBA admissions essays.

Some highlights from the text:

Know your company

This is your opportunity to demonstrate to your employer that you have thought about the value of an Executive MBA from the company perspective.

Areas you might like research or discuss with your employer:
 Has your organisation ever sponsored employee education in the past? What is their policy on this? Do any of your competitors sponsor Executive MBA’s? Have any senior managers taken an Executive MBA or similar course? What benefits did previous employees gain from their Executive MBA? What were the benefits to the organisation? How might your colleagues/ line managers/ subordinates support you? How can you obtain buy in from your manager as well as HR?

Know your chosen programme

There are a number of Executive MBA programmes available – it is important that you are able to show why you feel the Cambridge Executive MBA is the right programme for you and your organisation.

You therefore will need to be able to address the following questions:
 Why is the Cambridge Executive MBA right for you personally and professionally? How do you expect to benefit from the programme (improved performance, networking opportunities)? Which courses are going to make your more effective in your current role? Which course will directly benefit your employer? What individual project can you carry out that will help you/ your organisation? How will the Cambridge reputation add value to your career and organisation?

Know yourself

This is probably the most important section for you to consider as a complete understanding of your motivation for undertaking the Cambridge Executive MBA will be vital when discussing the programme with your employer and may influence the type of support you require.

Why is this the right time for you to start an Executive MBA course? How will taking this course improve your performance? How will you balance work, study and the other aspects (family/partner) of your life? How do you plan to make use of your personal and professional development?

How to Manage Yourself at an MBA Fair

MBA fairs are events where many business schools are present in one place, each at a school-branded stall or booth, ready to interact with and provide information to prospective applicants.

How should you, the applicant, navigate these events? Here’s a 10-point guide:

1. Know why you are there. You are there to find out information about schools that is *not* on their Website. You want to be asking questions that will fill out your knowledge of the institution and the program, so that you can make good decisions where to apply. Some of what you learn should also be useful in your MBA admissions essays.

2. Know why they are there. The schools pay large sums to attend, and their goal is to promote their school brand and get the best set of applicants. They also want to provide enough information about their timelines so the good potential candidates get themselves into the process on time (including getting visas, etc.)

3. Be realistic about how many potential applicants any school rep will see in a day. That is, hundreds. That means no, he or she very likely will not remember you when you apply. But you may reference a conversation you had at the booth in your MBA essay.

4. Keep a savvy distinction in your head between a school rep and the admissions committee. It’s possible but unlikey that anyone from Adcom is at the booth.

5. Knowing your’e not talking to Adcom, and that the rep won’t particularly remember you, you can relax. This is not the time or place to sell yourself. Ask questions. Find out as much as you can. That’s what you’re there for and all that matters. If you are simply yourself it’s not going to harm your chances in any way. (For the same reason, there’s no need to dress up for an MBA Fair. Dress normally. And wear comfortable shoes!)

6. Knowing the school rep you’re talking to doesn’t make any admissions decisions –not even the first cut– also means there’s no point in monopolizing their time. Find out what you need and move on. Play nice for others who may be waiting.

7. Depending on your style, it’s worth having a planned route. You will have a good idea of the schools you want to talk to, and with a floor plan you can cover your ground in the most efficient way. But don’t shut out serendipity. Part of the benefit of an MBA admissions fair is discovery of the hidden gem.

8. Quality of engagement is more important than quantity. Having had a handful of significant chats with school reps is more valuable than saying hello and picking up the marketing material from 20 booths.

9. Go early. You want to catch the reps when they are fresh and when they have relatively more time for you.

10. Keep it professional. You’ll share some of your back-story and motivation in a decent conversation with a school rep, but you should remain at a business-like level. Your time at the booth can’t get you admitted, but it could circumscribe your chances.


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