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Hey Mom, Why Don’t You Have an MBA?

Let’s say you’re in your early to middle 30s. You graduated from college in the middle 1990s. You got into the wild world of Web business close to the beginning. You got caught up in it. You learned, you led, you succeeded. By now you have a good job, and maybe a family, maybe kids.

The Mommy M.B.A. article I saw about this at MSN (with thanks to Steve King on his SmallBusinesLabs blog, who posted on it first) focuses on the mommy segment, which is fine with me, because one of my favorite CEOs fits this demographic exactly. This is a real issue, and a great one for the business schools to address. Author Sue Shellenbarger of writes:

Because of these issues, female enrollment in full-time M.B.A. programs has remained mired for years at a dismal 30 percent, compared with about 49 percent in medical schools and 47 percent in law schools.

To break this pattern, graduate business schools are fielding new programs to attract women. They’re launching part-time morning M.B.A. programs, bending the rigid M.B.A. track and recruiting students at younger ages.

The new offerings aren’t a good fit for everyone, but the changes are slowly brightening the work-life landscape for aspiring female business leaders.

But let’s go back to talking about you. You never stopped to get the MBA degree. In the beginning, the rush of the Internet boom, who had time? And then came the crash, there were layoffs, you had to scramble. Who had time then? And now? You really like your job, and it took a lot to get where you are. Quit all that to get the MBA?

You know who you are, and I think perhaps I know what you’re thinking. That MBA thing isn’t about money, the way the detractors say it is; it’s about being interested in what you do, wanting to know more, being curious about the theory, getting into things deeper. And it’s annoying, I’m guessing you’d agree, when you get the subtle put-downs from those who did have the time, money, and opportunity to get the degree. Particularly because it feels like they’re frequently overvalued, certainly in their own minds, at least.

And a bit about what worked with me: Looking back, I was lucky with how the MBA worked out in my life. I was 31 when I started, 33 when I finished, but it was a different world in 1979. We were living in Mexico City and wanting to change jobs and countries, having pretty much run through what was interesting in journalism, and not really having to go down, the way you would today, economically down, to quit my job and go back to school. We moved with our three kids from a fifth-floor apartment on the fringes of Mexico City to a small but beautiful townhouse on campus at Stanford University. I did have to work full-time to make the family budget work, but it was all a straight slope up, for my family as well as for me, and I really enjoyed the classes.

In your case, though, you’re probably looking at a starkly different landscape. While for me the MBA looked like a straight upward slope, you’ve done so well that you’re looking at going down, backwards, to do it. Quitting your job for a two-year academic program, costing $50K or so per year, is pretty much out of the question. And those executive MBA programs, attractive as they are, mean a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of work. That’s hardly an attractive prospect. You don’t have two years for that.

And here’s another problem: your knowledge and experience has taken you too far for the classic MBA curriculum. You’ve already done a ton of marketing, product development, business development, and sales. While there are some MBA classes you’d really love to take, most of them start way back at the beginning — your experience has taken you past that — and take too long to get to the real meat. You could really use a concentrated executive MBA.

(Wow, is this starting to sound like a sales pitch? It isn’t. I’m not leading to some supposed solution here. Just so you know.)

I haven’t studied this all that well but I do care about it because I work with several people just like you.

  • I noted with great interest that the Oxford MBA (the Said Business School) takes just a year, not two years; and it’s in Oxford, England, a really great place to live for a year — but it’s also in Pounds Sterling, which makes it very expensive. And it’s a full year, sorry, we know what that does to your job. And after learning about the Oxford program I discovered that there are some one-year MBA programs in the U.S.: Northwestern, Emory, Babson, Cornell, and University of Florida show up there. Plus some other non-U.S. ones.
  • One of my favorite clients cherry picked the short-term executive education programs offered by brand-name schools. When his biography said “studied business at Harvard,” people thought Harvard MBA; but in fact he’d had three or four two-week programs. You’d be amazed at how much marketing background and theory you can pick up in a week or two. Two people very much like you at Palo Alto Software took a one-week product development course at Stanford last June, and they came back ecstatic. A week or two, with a good program, meaning good professors and good co-students, can make an amazing difference.

It’s sad, though, how neither of these solutions really solve the mommy MBA problem that well. The first is an entire year, and the second, although it can quench that thirst you have to know more, doesn’t come with a shiny three-letter degree at the end of the rainbow.

And another thing: you’d like the classes they offer. You’re interested in this. Sitting in class with a good professor, dealing with business concepts, isn’t some drudge marathon you have to endure; it’s fun to do.

Is it too late? Will this ever work? I don’t know. But I do know that if somebody is going to come up with a solution for you, they’d better do it fast. Maybe better certification for those 2-4 week programs, or perhaps somebody (I mean some institution) able to string together a series of, say, six two-week programs ending in with an executive MBA degree. Is some of that happening out there, and I just don’t know it?


  • Mike Van Horn says:

    Question, Tim

    Why does the woman you describe even need an MBA? She's already established; already knows more than the courses teach. (She could be teaching some of the courses!)

    She sounds like my wife, who is a high-paid HR consultant. Missed the degrees because she was raising a kid and working full time.

    What she did instead was get certified in her profession — SPHR (senior professional in human resources).

    Clients never ask her what degrees she has. They check her references, then ask, "When can you get started? How much will it cost?" She has more work than she can handle.

    Why do the "Mommys" you are addressing need an MBA?

    — Prestige? Well, maybe. Weigh the cost in time and money.

    — Knowledge gained? I think specialized courses in the context of jobs or projects are more effective. Or for the big picture, do a program at U. of Phoenix or Golden Gate U.

    — Credential required by employer? Maybe for a bizschool newbie. But if you already have years of experience and track record, and a potential employer would reject you because you lack some magic letters after your name, you don't want to work for that company anyway.

    — Connections? This can be one of the most valuable things you get from school. But if you're in a work-study MBA program in your 30s or 40s, you may be running so hard you don't have time to nurture those connections. You may get better connections via professional associations.

    I'm not anti-MBA (although it's clear to me that my real business education began after I got mine). It's just that for the woman or man you describe, I'm not convinced it's the best use of time and money.


  • Anonymous says:

    The Oxford EMBA program might be just right.

  • Steve says:


    I went to Northwestern's 1 year MBA program. It was a long time ago (we used punch cards in the computer lab) but it made a lot more sense to me to go one year instead of two.


  • Tim Berry says:

    Thanks Mac, nice catch. I just corrected it in the post too. Tim.

  • Mac says:

    Your "Top Ten Programs" link is missing the ID. The corrected link should be:

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