Executives in the corporate world know how much an MBA can help them ‘get ahead’. But what about owner-managers? An ‘in the round’ approach to business, plus the chance to network with entrepreneurs, could make a well-chosen MBA worth a closer look.
MBA programmes can help extend skills, test ideas and improve networks – qualities essential to both the owner-manager and the entrepreneur. And while there is no evidence that an MBA will result in business growth, anecdotal feedback from graduates suggests that the qualification increases confidence, managerial skills and the ability to access a diverse and experienced network.
MBAs typically offer a broad grounding in disciplines such as marketing, accounting and finance, economics, international business, human resources and project management.
For Eyal Ben Cohen, an MBA course at Cranfield School of Management in 2004 completely changed the course of his career.
Cohen founded Verifile, the employment screening business, straight after his MBA. It owes its very existence to the degree programme. In fact, eight of his shareholders are fellow alumni. The business name, logo and strapline were all conceived and tested with fellow students. In fact, the opportunity to refine his ideas among 100 other would-be entrepreneurs was, he says, the primary benefit of his MBA. “The sheer number of contacts you gain in an MBA is unrivalled,” he says. “That’s something only an MBA can offer, really. It’s not like any other networking programme you might go on. Everyone thinks and talks business 24 hours a day in this context.”
Eight years on, Verifile has a £3 million turnover, employs 60 people and is thriving in spite of the recession, he says. He is in no doubt that the MBA has contributed to his success and he still leverages advice from his fellow graduates. “When I come to a big decision, there are people I can go to – not paid advisors, but other MBAs and staff I know at Cranfield. It’s all about the contacts and the resources you gain.”
Sharon Bamford, CEO of the Association of MBAs, the accreditation body for MBA providers worldwide, says students learn as much from their cohorts as they do from their faculty. “The richness of the learning environment is unique. If you are studying at an accredited business school you will then be immediately plugged into a global network of future influential business leaders,” she says.
Becoming a better manager
Ben Cohen points out that another benefit of enrolling on an MBA is the chance to assess your strengths and weaknesses. In his case, that awareness has led to an acknowledgement that he needed to recruit people who outperformed him in disciplines where he was less skilled. “In the corporate world, people are fearful of bringing in individuals who are more skilled than themselves. Entrepreneurs need a different perspective. I know there are areas of the business that I shouldn’t do myself: much better to bring in someone and trust them. Otherwise all you have is a one-man band. Everything has to centralise and your business will never grow.”
Michael Papé agrees. Papé has worked full time at Ravensden, a toy business founded by his parents, since 1995. Ravensden turned over £6.1 million last year and specialises in importing and distributing animal-themed merchandise to zoos, museums and aquarium gift shops in Europe and the Middle East. Papé is responsible for operational areas such as IT, purchasing and compliance, as well as managing some key accounts.
Papé says the Cranfield MBA he completed has paid dividends, both personally and for Ravensden as a business.
“The MBA changes the way you think and look at situations, and life in general, and that undoubtedly has had a positive effect on the business,” he says. “Personally I manage my own time and role very differently and I am much more disciplined about what I do, when I do it and how I do it. Mainly this is because the MBA taught me how important other things are in one's life and how you need to devote time and energy to all of these to achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve.”
Communication and organisational skills
That increased confidence led to better communication and organisational skills, Papé believes. He secured a high-profile contract to supply soft toys to a big insurance company. Longer-term, the business has benefitted by his ability to step back and look at strategy and the bigger picture.
“We have looked much more closely at what we do and how we operate as a business, in many ways, we have taken a step back from the day to day grind and looked at how we can change as an organisation in order to improve and strengthen our position for the future,” he says.
An MBA offers a firm grounding in business as well as access to experienced fellow entrepreneurs. As you search for ways to grow your business, avenues such as this are well worth exploring.