Planning, Startups, Stories

Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Read This Before Getting an MBA Degree 16

Here I am, father of five grown-up children, 37 to 22 years old, all of them working in small high-tech companies, all of them college grads, two of them with graduate degrees. And, while my MBA studies were exactly what I wanted, and worked great for me, not one of my five kids has a business degree, much less an MBA. Yesterday somebody asked me why that is. This post is my response.

1. Don’t do it for the money

Search Google for Is an MBA degree worth it? and you’ll find lots of people showing that the average incremental income linked to an MBA degree doesn’t compensate for the expense plus the lost income for two years. They’ll use buzzwords like opportunity cost. Ironically, I’m sure my MBA degree paid for itself in money terms many times over, but the analysis seems to indicate I’m the exception, not the rule.

So why do it (and if you have to ask, that’s a bad sign)?  You do it because you want to learn about business: entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, operations, strategy, management, planning, and so forth.

2. Don’t do it when you’re on the way up

Don’t ever quit an exciting new job to go get an MBA degree. Do quit a boring job or one you’ve mastered so much you’re not learning any more. Do use an MBA effort as a catalyst to change locations, the life you’re living, your business interests. Don’t do it when times are good.

3. Don’t do it if you hate school

If getting your undergrad degree was a long hard haul; if you don’t like school or classes or homework or teachers; then you’re going to hate the MBA program. You know who you are: some people like school, and some don’t. If you don’t like school, even if you successfully dragged yourself through it because you’ve got good discipline and you’re highly motivated, then you’re going to hate the MBA classes. And that’s hell. That wasn’t my case. I’d grown up (finally) when I went back to school.

4. Do it at the best school you can get into

Listen carefully for a while and you’ll start to hear people saying so-and-so is “Harvard MBA” or “Stanford MBA” or “Wharton MBA” and so on, in a way that changes the title to incorporate the school name. Northwestern also works for that, Duke, Babson, and for sure a few others (and I apologize for leaving them out). I have to recognize that this is easier said than done, because they are tough with admissions and expensive, but there is a difference between an MBA from one of these name schools and the MBA from one of the others. Even that return-on-investment analysis that I brought up in point 1 above looks much better when it’s an MBA from a name school.

5. Don’t do it if you can’t afford it

My wife and I worked my way through. I didn’t have scholarship or family money. I worked a lot at consulting while studying full time. We ended up with a lot of debt. But in the end, we were able to afford it. It was a lot cheaper back in 1979. If you can’t make the money side of it work, if it’s going to be two years of financial hell, don’t do it.

6. Don’t sacrifice a lifelong relationship for it

There’s a catch 22 problem here: first you have to say, if it’s a matter of either your marriage (or a lifetime couple relationship) or your MBA degree, forget the MBA. Lifetime relationships are way more important. But the catch is: in a healthy relationship each person makes the other one better. When I quit a job to get an MBA my wife encouraged me. “Let’s take the risk,” she said, “if we fail we fail together.” We’re still married. If you’re married or in a real long-term relationship, and your spouse, partner, or significant other doesn’t like the idea, it could easily destroy your relationship. That’s too big a sacrifice.

And be honest with yourself on this point too: if you really want it and the boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t care enough about what you want, realize it’s a bad relationship anyhow, one person pulling the other down, then go get the MBA anyhow. Meet somebody new.

Yeah, I know, that last bit has too much paradox.

  • Well, I think for career growth MBA degree is necessary as for managerial position the minimum requirement is a MBA degree.

  • Sadly, I thought I had, with the post you just commented on. Sigh…

  • Udeze Chidi Tony

    Please, I’m about going for an MBA program by next year, MBA Global Business to be precise. Actually I don’t want to go into in and find it difficult, I have the opportunity to do a Msc in International Business but MBA is what I prefer because real life business issues will the tackled and solution will be discussed and all. I didn’t study a business program as an undergraduate and I will soon take over a family business, so I need your advice, which postgraduate program will be best so as to acquire the proper business knowledge because I really want to acquire the knowledge and at the same I won’t want to start a program that I will find it hard to finish. Thank you.

    • @Tony, I’d like to help, but that’s a decision only you can make. There are no rules, guidelines, or algorithms for that. What’s right for you depends on who you are, what you want, what resources you have, what directions you want to take, not to mention the comparison in time required and resumé strength later on. I don’t know either of the two programs you mention, so I really have no idea. It would be presumptuous of me to pretend I know.

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  • Austin kenudi

    pls am about going for an MBA degree but confuse whether it will gain me employment (dont have a job).Also what area to specialise.doing it with crawford university what is your advise for me pls.

    • Austin, my opinion is that there are more practical ways to get a job than by getting an MBA. If you were to put the effort into job hunting that you’ll have to put into getting an MBA, you’re likely to find one. How much the MBA degree will help depends very much on you, and somewhat on the placement services of the institution that gives you the MBA. And what you specialize in should be what interests you the most.

      As I say in the post, the MBA isn’t the easiest or the best way to find employment. It works only if you’re interested, you can afford it, and you want to know what they’re teaching.


  • Seamus

    33 and just finished an MBA in London. This is really excellent advise.

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  • timothy mutugi

    It is really inspiring that a nice article .lam aged 28 years pursuing MBA in one of the universities here in Kenya, putting into consideration rule no. 1 &4 but against rule no .6

  • Thanks a lot. This really helped me. Studied engineering but I am a bit more enterprising so am thinking of an mba. Someone discouraged me today, thus ⌣̊┈̥-̶̯͡»̶̥D̶̲̥̅̊ search! I am so glad I found this

  • Tyler

    This was a great post – I’m afraid I will be going against Rule #1 but I will certainly be following #2-6.

  • joe

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks a lot for your post. I am a 24 year old in the position you described in bullet point #2: a job where I have maxed my potential so I appreciate the tips you give. I appreciate your factoring in the aspects of personal lives as well.

  • Amy Tracy

    Thank you for this post. I am a 36 year old who has gone back to school to finish what I started over a decade ago. My desire is to move up with the company I am already with and I am seriously considering going for my MBA because I think at some point in my career that will be what pushes me to the top. Definitely some good things to consider before I decide.

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  • This is definitely a great response.

    Thank you so much Tim.

    I’m just starting down the path of deciding whether I want to get my MBA or not, having already completed my undergrad in Business, and I stumbled upon this post.

    Some great insight, and I really appreciate it.

    Thank you Tim.

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  • Great blog post. You will find few people going against the grain today. I recommend this useful presentation, The Simple MBA Manifesto: Do We Really Need MBAs?

    And this resource who want to go beyond MBAs

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  • Even though I read your blog for the business and BP advice, this is one of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve ever read anywhere: “if you really want it and the boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t care enough about what you want, realize it’s a bad relationship anyhow, one person pulling the other down”. Unfortunately I learned that lesson far too late.

  • Great advice, Tim!
    I earned my MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and fit into the category of someone who LOVES school and a university environment. When looking at a business school and deciding where to go, one of the most important things to me was a school’s alumni network. A big part of the experience was forming lifelong friendships with top-flight classmates and having a large alumni base to assist in my career development.