When you decide to do an MBA you are making an investment of time and money in your future success. That might be with the idea of improving your position with your current employer, or by striking out on your own. But how will the MBA prepare you for this success?
Partly it is about what you will learn. For example, every manager needs to have some fundamental knowledge about how a business operates, and not all of that can be picked up on the job. If you have been working in marketing, for instance, you may not know how to analyse a profit and loss statement. And if you are working in accounts, the finer points of marketing may be a mystery to you. An MBA fills in these gaps and makes sure that you have a broad basis on which to make a successful career in management.
An MBA also brings you up to date with the latest developments that are shaping the way business operates. The biggest challenge comes from digital technologies, which are creating new classes of products and services, transforming markets, and generating new business models. To succeed in the business world of the future, you need to know what is possible, even if you leave the technical detail to the engineers and coders. An MBA will give you a solid grounding in business, but for those people who already have a focus it is often possible to select specific areas for deeper study. At Vlerick, for example, MBA participants can take elective modules in areas such as finance, entrepreneurship, IT, digital marketing and consulting.
Real world situations
Across the whole MBA programme, knowledge is anchored in real world situations. Working on case studies will show you how abstract knowledge plays out in specific situations and how real companies behave, for better or worse. You will also learn by meeting entrepreneurs and visiting companies that are building successful businesses, day by day. Some of these contacts will be drawn from the local economy, others will be on the international level. At Vlerick, for example, MBA participants get the opportunity to visit China or South Africa, the US and Ireland, to experience different business cultures at first hand.
This combination of theoretical knowledge, real-world examples and direct experience helps you build a repertoire of tools that you can use to understand and solve complex business problems.
But knowledge alone is not enough. Successful managers need skills in leadership, teamwork and decision-making. While some people seem to be born with these abilities, they can also be learned through innovative techniques such as business gaming and improvisation. These approaches give MBA participants experience that can help in negotiation, persuasion and motivation. They teach you how to open up relationships in the workplace rather than closing them down, how to listen and to establish trust. Successful managers don't push their teams from behind, but lead them from within.
These skills also develop through self-knowledge, a process that is supported at Vlerick by 360° feedback and peer coaching. This approach asks your peers, co-workers and even your family to assess your strengths and weaknesses as a leader or manager.
Building a network
Your peers on the MBA programme are particularly important in helping you succeed. Each intake on the programme brings together people from many different business sectors, countries and cultures. You will learn from each other as you work together to solve problems and analyse case studies. You will challenge and encourage one another. And you will build experience in intercultural teamwork.
Your colleagues on the programme, and other alumni of the school, represent a powerful network through which to develop your career, whether with informal advice or opening up new job opportunities. They may also become future collaborators on specific projects: many successful start-ups are founded by people who met at business school.
An MBA will also help you succeed in more concrete ways, for instance by giving you the space and the support to carry out a business project. This can be within your present company, for example addressing a strategic business challenge in marketing, the supply chain, innovation or a number of other possible areas. This is both a chance to apply your knowledge and to show your employer your new worth. But it could equally be a personal project, developing a business plan for your future career as an entrepreneur. At Vlerick, people on both tracks get coaching and support from faculty on the design and execution of their projects. You will learn how to explore and pitch your ideas, bring them to life and take them to the market.
Starting a company is not the only outcome of an MBA, of course. The experience it provides could also help you succeed by giving you career advice and guidance. And by following an MBA programme you will get a chance to step back and consider all the options.
Many people who take up an MBA with the idea of improving their position within their company may end up making a change, to another job or to business independence. So not only will an MBA prepare you for success, but it can change your ideas about what that success will look like.