Professional qualifications are an intense and often expensive experience: an MBA from a top business school can costs tens of thousands or more for a schedule of classes and events crammed into a year or two of strenuous study.
Proponents argue that with the demand for digital transformation, understanding the business as well as the technology is a key requirement for those who want to move forward. So is it worth investing the time and money to get an extra qualification, especially if you are funding it yourself?
Lee Cowie, CTO at Merlin Entertainments, says his MBA was definitely worth the investment.
He completed it 11 years ago and chose the difficult path to qualification – self-funded and spread over three years of study in his spare time. The reason? Cowie wanted to strengthen his ability to speak in terms that senior stakeholders could understand.
“I’ve always been aware in my career that to be successful in a business environment, I had to be able to speak the language of decision makers,” he says. “I needed to be able to translate technical concepts and things that resonated and made business sense. And I felt the only way to do that was to learn the language and demystify the business.”
By combining his business knowledge with his technical acumen, Cowie felt confident to take on more responsibility and move up the management ladder.
“Going through this process has given me the confidence to move forward. You start to think it’s not as complex as you thought. So yes, 100% – I think doing an MBA has been a very good investment of my time.”
However, not everyone is so convinced of the value of continuing education.
Cristiane Muller, digital marketing manager at Midea, holds a master’s degree in digital marketing.
Like Cowie, she funded the qualification herself; unlike Cowie, she doesn’t believe the investment of time and money paid off.
“Having a master’s degree is going to be something to put on your resume. But in a few months, the information you’ve learned will be old.”
Muller says this is especially true in rapidly changing fields such as digital marketing and technology.
She suggests professionals take a different approach. Rather than spending an intense period studying for a single qualification, she believes professionals can gain more value by taking tailored courses focused on a specific skill or by networking with like-minded professionals in other organisations. .
Muller says the future of business education will be one of constant study.
“When I talk to people younger than me, I always tell them to look for smaller courses with short-term and more specific elements – this will be the future of education. You have to study all the time and learn more and not just be comfortable with titles.”
Lily Haake, CIO and Executive Technology Leadership practice lead at recruiter Harvey Nash, recognizes the value of continuous learning.
She says top business schools estimate that earning an MBA can increase a candidate’s average salary by up to 140%, which for some would certainly make the qualification worth exploring.
Yet despite this potential benefit, Haake says it remains to be debated whether the time and financial investment is worth it.
“Our top priority in evaluating leaders is whether they can — and have — delivered for an organization,” she says.
“Many amazing and proven leaders have never even gone to college, and likewise many applicants with an MBA have a less impressive track record in the working world.”
The proof comes in the form of Harvey Nash’s executive search tactics. Haake says that when the company hires senior tech executives, the team rarely looks for an MBA in particular.
“In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a case from a client where an MBA is an essential requirement,” she says.
“That being said, if a candidate has an MBA from a prestigious institution – especially alongside other academic qualifications – it helps paint the image of someone intelligent, business-minded. company and dedicated. You cannot underestimate the dedication required to complete an MBA.”
Mark Bramwell, CIO at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, says the basic return on investment of an MBA means the extra qualification is worth the time and money.
As a business leader who works for one of the most prestigious academic institutions, Bramwell says it’s important to recognize the benefits that come from belonging to a research community of like-minded professionals.
“What’s a little less tangible is the experiential networking you get from nurturing a cohort of contacts, which – in an Oxford experiment – tends to stay with people throughout life” , he said.
“These people go on to do great things in great organizations at different levels, whether organizational, business, philanthropic or societal.”
Steve Otto, CTO of R&A, is another executive who points to the non-financial benefits of MBAs and other financial qualifications.
After earning a PhD in aerodynamics, Otto worked at NASA Langley in the US, before returning to the UK to become a lecturer at the University of Birmingham. He now holds an honorary chair of the institution.
“Additional qualifications are helpful in helping people think differently,” he says, before describing how his organization views applicants with additional qualifications.
“We have a real balance in our team between useful experience and people who may have gone further in education. We rarely hire people who are the finished product – we hire people who are really good at thinking and consider problem solving rather than people who are doing their specialty.”
Ultimately, the value of any further training depends on the individual.
While some will see an MBA or Master’s degree as simply something to add to their CV, others will be completely absorbed in the education experience. These experiences can expose the individual to new skills and even new areas of work.
More than a decade after completing his MBA, Merlin’s Cowie has some great advice for those considering further education as a way to improve their professional qualifications.
“I would say don’t think about it – I would say do it,” he says.
“I understand the commitment. Very few people are lucky enough to have the financial backing to be able to not work for a year and do it full time. So I suspect a lot of people will end up going the route I followed, which is spread over several years. It’s a lot of work. But in the end, it’s really rewarding.
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