This breaking news deserves immediate publication, in addition to my recent routine of posting/publishing on Mondays and Thursdays. Today the results of a recent interview by online reporter Seb Murray have appeared in Business Because. The story is titled Why MBA: Melbourne Business School, Australia.
I was approached via LinkedIn in recent times and over an easy online chat, I responded directly to the questions that now appear in the article/interview. In writing this article, I have sought to complement and expand upon the content and questions/answers from the Business Because Why MBA article. Readers should start with the article first and follow it up with the following.
The original impetus for pursuing an MBA began early on during the final year of my bachelor studies. I was part of the Industry Based Learning (IBL) scholarship cohort within the Bachelor of Business Systems at Monash University, Clayton. My cohort was one of the final batches to enter the degree when IT was super-hot. Being a member of the Year 12 Class of 1999, the IT industry was climbing a cliff which we would call today the Y2K hype. What this meant for me was that the clearly in ENTER (today called ATAR – the ranking used by Australian universities as a hurdle/criteria for selection into a university undergraduate degree) for the Bachelor of Business Systems peaked at 93. In order to secure the IBL scholarship from first year required an ENTER of 99. Compare this to 2014 – whilst the degree remains the top IT degree of the university and arguably the state/country, the clearly in ENTER today is 80.3 (based on the official Monash website) .In the final sessions our Course Director dispensed her words of wisdom to us, amongst which was the desire to develop within us a collegiate nature, which is prevalent within Business Schools where MBAs are pursued. She specifically mentioned that a number of us one day would likely pursue an MBA. At the time, I thought little of it, but a decade later, those words would now seem somewhat prophetic…
When I look back at the last decade, including the three years of part-time MBA study, I believe the seven years I have spent working in the ICT industry via Coles Myer first, and then Terra Firma, has been the real story around which my educational pursuits have revolved. To have pursued an MBA any earlier may have worked out, but given the work experience and opportunities I have had with various Terra Firma clients, the academic studies really only connect with the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge. For example, as part of my undergraduate course, I did first year and second year accounting. Now, I am not an accountant, so I struggled through the two subjects, particularly second year. In late 2010 when I studied accounting for the third and final time as part of the MBA core subjects, this time I had my recent and often simultaneous work experience to help make sense of debits, credits, revenue recognition, and other accounting concepts. Indirectly, I found myself applying my accounting skills to the business case work I was involved with in 2012. Whilst my 2012 full-time work experience in this area was not explicitly planned as a result of my MBA studies, it is during these times of reflection where I can see the foundational knowledge infusing my approach within the workplace to the work at hand.
The biggest change and impact the MBA had on me would be in the way I think and approach work. Often today, in the workplace, I take and vocally push for a pragmatic approach to getting work done. Whilst the challenges of work may sometimes be contextual and environmental, we all bring and contribute to the work culture – my contribution in this regard leverages a lot of the philosophy and mindset that is drilled into us by the MBA education. It has often been said that an MBA is a mile wide and an inch deep. As a parallel, my consulting knowledge and experience has followed a similar pattern – where I have journeyed across a wide variety of projects and environments, sometimes within the one client, to accumulate a breadth of technical and domain knowledge that is quite diverse. I have spent several years within the mobile/wireless technology space, but for the last few months have been branching out and learning about satellite broadband technology. The thread that continues across it all is the analytical mindset and approach to work, plus an incredible God-sourced and given passion and energy.
When we all start out our careers as starry-eyed 20-something individuals, we bring into the workplace an enthusiasm, energy and willingness to learn and contribute. Over time, especially as the routines of working life become set, we can stagnate and lose that original vibrancy. Partly because of my Christian/spiritual life and journey – which some would pigeon-hole and keep separate from career/work/office – year after year, month after month, week after week, I find that God enables me to approach each new day in the office afresh and renewed. Some colleagues in the office have over the years referred to me as like an Energiser bunny – constantly bouncing back and on the go. A current nickname that colleagues have given me is Astro Boy, but that is another story in itself…
The Christian/God influence is also a part of my identity that in recent years I have learnt NOT to compromise or shy away from. It is who I am. It is also a key unveiling reason and motivation behind my MBA studies. I say “unveiling” because when I embarked upon the three-year journey it was not an explicit and well-defined motivation for an MBA. However, I felt God did have a hand upon my three-year study experience – enabling me not just to engage in the studies academically but also to get involved with the extra-curricular activities. After an initial settling in period, I spent two of the three years serving on the Student Representative Council (SRC), culminating in being Vice President in 2011 (Communications Officer in 2010). The God-driver was about building relationships with not just my fellow part-time students, but through the SRC – I was able to connect with full-timers across multiple cohorts. One of the events I was quite proud of helping to organise was the annual AGSM-MBS Sports Competition. As part of helping to organise and coordinate the various sporting events throughout the day, I also secured a corporate sponsorship/donation from my consulting firm, which gave the company visibility for both students based in Melbourne (MBS) and Sydney (AGSM), where we have our two main office locations.
Networking has been a perennial theme in my life. I believe my MBA experience both in and outside the classroom have been opportunities for me to build upon what I have always done – connect with people, organise events and bring the two together. Being an event organiser requires both leadership and management skills. Through organisations like my church and the causes I support – Christians 20/30 and Operation Christmas Child – my skills in event organisation and management have been given a good work out of late. For a brief moment just last night, I was juggling a third ‘event’ – although this last one was a simple Facebook event to collect individuals interested in being a part of a group booking placed for Church Unite.
Of all the words and principles taught by professors at MBS, I constantly find myself recalling and applying in work and general life situations:
What gets measured gets managed.
This general concept was introduced to me in the first core marketing subject by Associate Professor Don O’Sullivan. Whilst the original context was in terms of marketing metrics, the principle has great application and reuse in general work contexts. It is a truism of performance management and managing stakeholder expectations. Our performance reviews are determined by the targets we initial agree upon and how we measure up against them. When we work with stakeholders, one of the most important questions and focal points of meeting discussions should be “what is important to you, and why?” Often, distilling and listening in between what is said and what a stakeholder really cares about is reflected in the hard quantifiable metrics (either formal or informal) that manifest in actual work performed. The metrics and targets become the goal posts around which we focus and head towards. It is for this reason that setting the right metrics is just as important, if not, more than having the wrong metrics. Having metrics and targets in themselves is not a guarantee to success or the intended outcome – the alignment of metrics to corporate visions, values and business needs is part of the secret to ensuring a healthy business.
My MBA became focused, as a result of the chosen electives, in marketing. If you had asked me what I would major in at the start of the MBA, I would not necessarily have pointed you to marketing. My experience was very much a case of emergent strategy; Brand Management under Mark Ritson had been a highly recommended subject that a large number of Melbourne Business School students will continually reinforce as a form of a virtuous cycle. Product Management was my final subject and had been an ideal from day #1. Marketing Communication was my second experience of being under Don’s influence, and Marketing Strategy with Ujwal Kayande was a key highlight. Marketing Strategy will rate highly for me because of the StratSim experience where my syndicate group worked extremely well together and produced a highly competitive second place result. In a nutshell, StratSim was a marketing strategy simulation that we worked through as a class of 5/6 syndicate groups, each representing a competing company. The simulation involved a large number of variables and levers, but the fun and challenge was made additionally enjoyable because each company/group’s decisions would impact on the industry and other groups. The key to success was to develop up-front a marketing strategy and then sticking to it! What better way to learn marketing strategy than to apply it? Other marketing subjects studied include Consumer Behaviour, Channels & Distribution plus Managing Innovation.
The MBA experience has always been different between part-time students, who have to balance work commitments, and full-time students who have fewer distractions but a more intense program (now fit into a single 12-month period). Melbourne Business School’s strategy to move to a four-term teaching calendar plus the one-year full-time program has meant the two student bodies have become more distinctive in profile. These differences are also evident in the way full-time students, particularly if international students, become very focused towards the end of their program on securing employment. The value of the MBA in Australia is limited by the prevailing attitudes and understanding of an MBA education within corporate Australia. Over a long time frame, Business Schools do have hope that we, as alumni, can slowly influence the overall corporate culture. The number of opportunities available to MBA graduates is greatly expanded, and that expanded mindset/attitude itself is part of the lasting legacy of the MBA education. Ultimately, I think there is a latent leadership skill that the MBS MBA program instills within us – either manifested as people leadership or thought leadership. It is this second form of leadership that should help build the long-term value of an MBA in the eyes of corporate Australia.