MBAs: the most bang for your educational buck

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

In an increasingly competitive labour market and one where higher educational qualifications are becoming the norm, it’s important for aspiring executives to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. For anyone with high ambitions in the corporate world or who wants to run their own business, one of the best degrees you can do is an MBA (Master of Business Administration).

‘In business, an MBA is probably the most useful qualification, both in terms of what it gives the individual and in terms of employers’ perceptions of value-add to an employee’s quality and potential,’ says Stephen Scheeler, Director of Strategy and Innovation for Inchcape Australia.

Scheeler knows this from firsthand experience – his MBA enabled him to move from various jobs teaching English and running a small business to becoming a management consultant, then business development director for Lion Nathan and Westfield, before landing his present position at Inchcape.

According to Matthew Logan, Director of AGSM MBA Career Services at the Australian School of Business (UNSW), MBA qualifications are becoming increasingly sought-after in Australia when companies are recruiting for senior positions. ‘By hiring MBA graduates, employers gain people with the potential and skills set to become future leaders in the business.’

Chris Nikolau, an AGSM Executive MBA 2009 graduate, agrees. ‘The level of insights and self-awareness that the MBA provides goes hand-in-hand with the strategic decision-making skills provided. This enables graduates to move beyond purely functional managerial areas of organisations, into more challenging areas of growth strategy, managing change and key future investment directions of firms they work for.’ 

Scheeler is mindful of candidates’ educational credentials when recruiting for Inchcape. ‘We place a lot of emphasis on qualifications, especially for more senior leadership roles.’

Who should study an MBA?

MBAs are undertaken by those who wish to take their career to a higher level. According to Matthew Logan, students are often those who want to pursue a management career path or move away from more technical roles (such as engineer) to more strategic management roles; who want to start their own business; and who want to develop appropriate leadership skills, expand their network and work towards other personal development goals.

Those who get the most out of doing an MBA are often those with several years of work and business experience behind them. In fact, solid professional experience is a requirement for entry into many Executive MBA programs. 

Raise your income with an MBA

Jon Murray is a former IT professional who undertook an Executive MBA as a pathway to more commercial opportunities and greater earnings potential. Sure enough, upon graduation he was immediately hired as general manager of a large online retail business – and immediately got a significant pay hike.

Stephen Scheeler can also confirm that an MBA boosts a person’s employment and earnings potential. ‘Increasingly, postgrad qualifications are becoming mandatory for most C-level (corporate title) and director-level positions in major companies. If you don’t have the qualification, it’s harder to get the job, and therefore harder to earn that higher salary.’

A practical degree

An MBA will arm you with very practical skills and an understanding of how business works that will help you in roles of increasing responsibility, whether that be while working for others or running your own show.

Jon Murray found his MBA to be hugely valuable. ‘It was a very practical degree. I gained great insight into how businesses work and how to best devote my time to get a maximum return on my efforts.’ He uses that knowledge every day in his present role as a web marketing consultant and running his own online retail business, Affairs in Order.

Stephen Scheeler also emphasises the importance of doing a practical degree. ‘I was interested in doing a postgrad degree of some kind but I wanted something that would be practical and useful, not just theoretic. Eventually, I settled on doing an MBA because I thought it would be something which would be both intellectually stimulating and practical at the same time.’

An interesting degree

For Scheeler, doing an MBA wasn’t just a means to getting a high-paying corporate job – it was also about learning and self-improvement. ‘It was very intellectually stimulating and opened my mind to disciplines which I hadn’t formally pursued before – like organisational behaviour, marketing and statistical analysis. I just found that interesting from a purely learning perspective.’

Murray concurs: ‘It was great to get back into an academic discipline and get my brain working in that way again, and be able to bring that discipline into the workplace.’

MBA vs Executive MBA

Many universities offer both a full-time MBA and part-time Executive MBA program, so your choice to study full- or part-time will depend on your circumstances and whether or not you choose to continue working while studying.

The types of students who study full-time MBAs tend to differ from those who do part-time Executive MBAs, according to Matthew Logan. Full-time MBA students tend to be those who wish to fast-track their careers and immerse themselves in an intense learning experience. Upon graduation, they can launch themselves straight onto the path of career advancement and a higher salary.

Part-time Executive MBA students tend to be in more senior roles at work, and perhaps they have hit a management ceiling that an MBA will help them to break through. Doing the MBA, they learn concepts that they can simultaneously apply to their work roles, and once they graduate they can either move sideways within their organisation or up the corporate ladder.

Andrew Ross completed an Executive MBA through Open Universities Australia (OUA) while continuing to work, and his studies were a great complement to what he was doing on the job: ‘What I found in the Executive MBA program was a direct link to the role I was playing leading a large diverse ‘people services’ function. The business knowledge is related and embedded almost immediately to tasks and challenges we had in the organisation. Many of my assignments enabled me to step back and analyse business issues and apply a different level of thinking to finding their solutions.’

Doing your MBA online

Many MBAs can also be completed by distance. OUA’s Executive MBA (offered through RMIT University) is an online program that has been designed to offer students maximum flexibility and convenience so they can study around work and other commitments. It can be done either fully face-to-face or by distance, with a small residential component.

Pierre Hultstrand found studying with OUA by distance a positive learning experience. ‘Going to school online does not have to mean long hours alone in front of the computer. During a program, students can interact with other students from across the country, exchanging stories, and learning more about the world around them as they pursue their degree.’

SEEK Learning’s MBA program (offered through Edinburgh Business School) is another program that can be done online – anytime and anywhere, and at your own pace.

Networking opportunities

The networking opportunities presented by doing an MBA are one of its main benefits. For Jon Murray, doing an MBA was invaluable for the many professional contacts he developed – many of whom have also become close personal friends.

‘There were lots of networking opportunities and the contacts I’ve made have been invaluable. I still keep in touch professionally with many of the people I met during my MBA,’ says Murray.

Chris Cusack graduated with an MBA from the AGSM in 2009 and particularly appreciated the community aspect of the program. ‘What I enjoyed most were the friendships I made and the sense of community within the school. There was a tremendous diversity of backgrounds within the class and I really learnt a lot from the other students. As well as achieving my goals I now also have a global network to draw from.’

An investment in your future

Furthering your education always involves some sacrifice in the short term, especially if you are working and have to fit study around that, or study full time and have to temporarily give up your income. But in the long term, there can be a substantial pay-off and your MBA could set you on a whole new career trajectory.

The temporary lack of income was a major consideration for Stephen Scheeler. ‘One major concern was the overall cost of having to both pay for the degree and take two years where I was earning no income – it was a big investment to make and there was no guarantee of a financial return.’ But it certainly paid off for Scheeler, just as it has for so many others.

Want to reach the next level in your career? Browse MBAs and other executive courses for a fast-track to management roles.

Josie Chun

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