What is my MBA goal – a job, own business, or both?

bridgeI am driving my car on a warm, breezy Sunday morning to a vacation spot I had planned to go. I have thought about this trip thoroughly and packed all the necessary items I needed to make my journey a memorable one. As I am speeding towards my destination and listening to my favorite track on radio, I can see a gathering in front of a building just before the city limits. Always a curious person, I stop my car and enquire to find that it’s a free 30 minutes session on vacation package by a leading holiday provider. That’s not much time and I decide to sit through this session. Well, it didn’t take much time and I did go to my desired vacation spot, but I realized something that day. In life, we are constantly changing our goalposts so that we can experience the satisfaction of achievement in things that matter to us. After I came out of that session, I instantly knew I had to make fresh plans and upgrade my vacation next time.

We often ask ourselves what I want out of an MBA program. Some of us focus on being competitive in the job market and aspire those lucrative and rewarding managerial positions in organizations. For such, there is a need to acquire knowledge on running a business and specialize in certain areas like finance or marketing. As future managers, one has to know most aspects of a business and master in a few of them which would identify as expertise. And, there are others who dream to run a business of their own because that’s what they believe they are good at. For them, in addition to learning the ropes of running a business, they also nurture their skills of risk taking, passion for an idea and curiosity to solve a problem. These skills are conditioned in the personality of those who wish to become an entrepreneur.

Businesses are not getting any simpler, there are many more external influencers and internal complexities that make up in running a business than there were before. Learning things through failures will provide lesser probability of reaching success these days. The business environment changes quicker nowadays, so what is learnt through mistakes may not offer another attempt at redemption. Say, a person has this innate ability to take risks, and when he understands the principle of diversification or the long-term returns from equities, he as an investor will create a riskier portfolio. So, his risk taking skill has been channelized into a sound decision based on correct fundamentals. The same can be said for people with entrepreneurial abilities who go through an MBA program, which will teach the basics that help answer questions on how to set up a pricing plan, motivate employees or raise capital from the market. Add to these, the skills already in possession, the entrepreneurs only get better. The time in an MBA program will help apply these skills in a context and with broader understanding of subjects will enable one to make informed and superior decisions when running an own business.

On the other end, those looking for the attractive jobs post MBA, have their plans cut out. The target is to be the best in the selected domain, with a holistic understanding of other areas as well. Many in this block of students may not have the appetite to shoulder the risk and insecurity that comes with pursuing a passion to create something of their own. The need for independence is not a burning desire in their lives, instead their preference is a secure environment that helps them to remain creative or deliver results day after day. It is okay because it works for such a scenario.

Before we put an end to this debate between job and own business, let’s take a step back and question ourselves if we even need to make this distinction when enrolling for an MBA programs. There are institutes and programs that favor entrepreneurial inclinations in the curriculum. So there are no dearth of options, but what is significant is are we sure that we can judge ourselves as having or lacking the entrepreneurial skills. There is never an end to discovering ourselves, so an intelligent decision would be to start with a goal and adapt along the way to refine the goal into a reliable and secure outcome. This is where we need to change our goalposts as we discover more about our abilities.

A student wanting to be an entrepreneur could benefit from a few years in the job before starting out an own venture. Besides having a real-life experience of seeing a business in operation, the person’s abilities would also be tested in the work environment. This will in turn provide confidence when he makes the jump from job to his own venture. In the same vein, a student whose objective was to get into a job after MBA, may discover that his career has not taken off the way he envisioned. Or he may be feeling suffocated by the lack of independence to pursue his ideas. Changing track at such a point in his life can certainly be beneficial. He may actually be very successful in following his dream to make a difference. Strangely, he discovered it only because he was willing to change his goalpost.

Companies do give opportunities to employees who can take initiatives and run divisions independently. So having a baptism in running an independent business can certainly be an advantage when such offers are available. We need to realize that it is never difficult to alternate between working for a company and running an own show. Hence, it should not be too hard a task to decide what to do after MBA.

MBA programs provide future managers and entrepreneurs important lessons to understand overall business principles, mitigate risk, communicate ideas clearly and increase the probabilities of success. However, whether we execute this learning to launch a new business or make an existing business prosper, it entirely depends on us.

Contributed by Amitava Kundu (Class of 2002, IBS BANGLORE)

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