Getting an MBA – why we do it (not that I have any clue)

As I’ve progressed through my MBA program at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, I have lately been thinking about why I am doing this.  Why I am pursuing this degree in particular.  And, as I’ve thought about that, I have begun to wonder about the motivations of my classmates and thought more about what they have said they hope to take out of the program or how they hope to make use of the degree down the road.  It has been an interesting and illuminating exercise.

This is really a very generic post and is not about anyone, any group, or any…thing in particular.  I am speaking generally here, with sweeping generalizations about everyone I’ve seen and met at the school.  I say this because I have friends in the program and obviously I want to be clear that I am not thinking of particular people as I write this.  I truly am not.  I am in fact purposely mashing a few people together when I think of certain examples.

I’ll cut it here before I can’t find a better place to do so…

First, the question is why am I in the program, and why I am pursing an MBA.  I guess maybe the other way around :-).

I work in academia.  I like academia.  It is a politically chaotic place with fiefdoms inside of kingdoms controlled by warlords and peacemakers.  And these leaders come from the bottom to the top of the ivory tower.  Everything is political.  So it’s not a great atmosphere, but I like what we’re after, ultimately.  The teaching of students, improving the learning of those students, and preparing men and women to do something.  Not sure what, but definitely something.

So, within the context of academia, I am doing an MBA for the purpose of differentiation.  There are a lot of people with doctorates (or, in my case, JD’s specifically) in higher education management, but not a lot of MBA’s.  Not a lot with a formal training in management or finance or, most importantly, how management, finance, economics, etc all mingle together dynamically.  Mind you – I don’t necessarilly think I am now more knowledgeable than my peers because of my training, just that the degree itself is a differentiator.  Those three letters are not common in academia.

Of course, I don’t mind the idea of a degree that might lead me to some great idea and spark the entreprunerial side of my personality.  In fact, perhaps because I come from academia (been working in the field since I got my BA…), I am finding myself less risk averse than others in many ways.  I hear my classmates talk about how they thought they’d want to start up a company after the program but are now too daunted at the task.  Yet I think more and more about it.

As I have talked to friends, I have noticed two obvious patterns, and one surprising, overarching one.  The obvious ones are that people who do X are getting an MBA to be better at X, and others that do X are getting an MBA to do Y.  Not a shocker.  Someone in accounting does the accounting concentration and is now aiming to be higher level management in that department.  Someone doing management in one area wants to get into operations, so looks at supply-chain classes, that kind of stuff.  We go back to school to better ourselves, open up doors, etc, so this all makes sense.

The surprising one, though, which covers a lot of my classmates, is that these first two patterns sometimes do not manifest themselves with a great deal of consistency.  Or maybe a better word would be vigor.

For instance – I mentioned that understanding how management, finance, and economics all interweave and act dynamically is a critical part of an MBA training, and why I think I will benefit from the program and degree.  Purely as an observer and never having asked deep, meaningful questions to the effect, I don’t see this same kind of “big picture” stuff with some of my classmates.  So the one that is pursuing a higher level job in accounting is not putting as much effort in management classes as I might have thought.  So how will that student be better prepared for that higher level job, which inevitably is a management one?  Those same students have been extremely intrigued and active in the management classes we have taken together, but there isn’t that sense of…enthusiasm for finding the marriage of the two that seems so obvious and important to me.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a similar lack of passion and energy about one’s job.  Bad situation, bad boss, limited room for growth, whatever.  These are all reasons that should be driving people to get an MBA.  Of course, thse people are in fact here, getting one, but it’s almost like each is in a kind of professional stasis while they are pursuing the degree.  I’m not suggesting that these generalized classmates have a fantasy about doors opening once the degree is completed, but everyday I take lessons I have learned from every class – whether it’s management or finance or even accounting (that’s a tough one to fit into one’s job unless you’re in that department…) and apply them to work.  And everyday I think about how I can better apply those principles tomorrow, and maybe even how in a year or two or five I’ll move onto the next job.

I am NOT, absoultely NOT saying that my classmates lack drive.  Anyone that works full-time and goes to school at night to get an MBA has drive.  I’m just not sure there is a kind of passion there.  A vigor, an enthusiasm about the material.

I am getting perilously close to judgmental in this post, and am doubting whether I should publish it at all.  If you see this, please know that I am really not judging anyone.  These are observations.  And considerations about where I want to go and how I observe those same considerations in others.  All I have are my observations, though.  I’m no ethnographer, I have done no surveys, and I have no research.  I have just observations and random chit-chat.  Which means I’m basically talking out of my ass…

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