Just about every owner and director of an SME is looking for ways to make a quantum difference to business performance and growth. Will he or she find the answer in a MBA programme – and will it be relevant to the day-to-day challenges of life in an SME? Will it provide the hands-on expertise that’s so necessary and be an empowering catalyst for progressive change? We spoke to Dr. Amanda Nimon Peters, Dean of Hult International Business School (Dubai) and Executive Director, Robert Chater.

 

“If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get the same results” – Tom Peters

First things first. Education for its own sake won’t make you a better CFO or help you complete a Type 7 Transfer more seamlessly. But spending a year or more analysing how effective businesses work – and then painstakingly dissecting their key operational and strategic components – almost certainly will. It’s absolutely the case that if you study for an MBA you’ll learn hugely important skills that might take you a decade or more to acquire by trial and error. It’s also true that if you want to do this, it makes sense to do it in one of the very best business schools, where the proven track record of alumni success speaks for itself.

Precisely why SME Advisor spoke to Hult International Business School, which not only has a tremendously strong reputation for practical, ‘real world’ skills training, but – with campuses in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai – truly has a finger on the pulse of international trends and keynote global business issues.

For those skeptical about the power of an MBA to make a swift, all-apparent change to their jobs, lifestyle and career rewards, it’s worth considering this: according to the Financial Times rankings, Hult students’ average salary three years after graduation rose by 14 percent to USD 113,700 – the most of any business school.

Meanwhile, Hult itself is

• One of the top one percent of business schools in the world, ranked top 10 by the Financial Times in all five international categories.

• Ranked by The Economist as 31st best business school in the world.

How does excellence in the rankings translate into practical value for an SME manager? The School’s Dean, Dr. Amanda Nimon Peters, comments that: “There are really five ways in which the MBA has immediate practical value. These are:

1) You gain a cross-functional, management view of business. Hult’s emphasise is on a practical education that you can put to use from Day One of your new job. It ensures you get an all-round perspective on business – working on all sides of the company and having to consider their impact on the bottom line. Many people are used to doing a job where they don’t have to consider the bottom line at all; but here, they learn how to make the company’s performance their primary focus – understanding how margins are built and influenced and the interaction between every side of the business.

2) You gain actual experience in live management consulting. Every student takes part in a six-week Action Project, developing core skills in the context of hands-on consultancy for a real company. Globally, Hult students have completed consultancy projects for multinationals such as IBM, Samsung and Nike. In Dubai, they are working with Fedex, Dubai Trade, Dubai Health Care City and Stanton Chase International. These companies challenge our students to find innovative solutions to business questions and then help them implement the findings. This is not an academic classroom exercise – this is real-life consulting! It’s significant that businesses have sometimes implemented the students’ findings even when they’d already come up with a different answer themselves!

3) You learn proven business strategies that might take you ten years to discover by trial and error in the corporate world.

4) You can’t help but develop totally fresh perspectives on your career goals and overall life priorities.

5) You will gain a global network of contacts. Our classes are truly diverse – we use nationality quotas to ensure diversity – and we offer the opportunity to rotate to our other international campuses so you have the opportunity to build the basis of an extremely powerful future network.”

Choices

There are two different styles of MBA – a full-time study option, and an executive MBA (the ‘EMBA’), which involves part-time study around an existing job. Dr. Amanda Nimon Peters explains: “The Hult full-time MBA is a one-year programme designed to get you get back into the job market as quickly as possible. In fact, 78 per cent of graduates are employed within three months of graduation. Here, the average age of our students would be about 30, but that figure rises significantly for our EMBAs.

Meanwhile, the EMBA programme can last any time from two to five years, depending on your circumstances and the time you’re able to spend on it while working. Typically, you’d have had around seven years’ experience of work before studying for the MBA, but the profile of EMBA students shows that they’ve generally spent longer than that in the workplace, building their careers.”

Learning from the best

A common concern for anyone considering an MBA is whether the teaching staff will themselves have ‘real world’ business experience – not to mention whether or not their academic and teaching credentials are in order. Is the experience going to be like going back to school, or will it be challenging, life-enhancing and fresh? Robert Chater, Executive Director, emphasises the fact that at Hult: “There is a total focus on the classroom experience and our mission is to get the best professors we can. All our staff are assessed by three all-important criteria:

1) Academic excellence

2) Practical experience

3) Teaching expertise

These three core values help us build the best faculty we can.” Dr. Amanda Nimon Peters adds that: “The performance of all faculty members is monitored to ensure a consistently high standard of classroom experience. Even when inviting guest lecturers, it is not enough to identify people with experience working at a Fortune 500 company; we look for people who’ve led these companies to make significant changes and deliver tangible results.”

Acid test: what does an EMBA student have to say?

To gauge the real relevance of an EMBA to the life and aspirations of a hardworking senior manager, we spoke to Hult Executive MBA student, Jacob Lebo. He gave us this remarkably candid profile of how the degree has impacted his career, skillsets and capabilities. (Note: It’s interesting that Jacob has already reaped the rewards of his long, demanding studies – having recently been offered a senior position close to being the job of his dreams – as a direct result of an MBA research project).

“The MBA was incredibly helpful both in giving me this hallmark qualification on my resume and then allowing me to apply this knowledge ‘in real time’. Being able to list an MBA on your professional credentials certainly makes decision makers stand up and listen. As far as its practical value is concerned, being able to apply what I’ve learnt from the classroom in my day to day business dealings is incredibly powerful.

“In terms of how I secured a new position, I was asked to perform a case study in my final interview. Needless to say case studies are right in the wheelhouse for an MBA student. After many hours of hard work I walked confidently into that meeting, delivered a well-researched and practical proposal, and won the job. The MBA helped me refine my presentation delivery, provided new tools to analyse business opportunities, and gave me the ability to take my innovative ideas and structure them in a way that drives action. I most definitely wouldn’t have been at the level I am now without the MBA.

“My view is that MBAs are most valuable to entrepreneurs (SME directors), or senior managers in an organisation of a certain maturity. In the case of the SME director – likely the owner – an MBA will give him or her the skills to work on the business, not in the business. This is primarily because you will gain the ability to properly manage finances and cash flow, something every business struggles with. I would also suggest that the MBA makes you more credible and attractive in the eyes of financiers. You can more easily approach private equity or bank financing and deliver exactly what is needed to win.

“How difficult is it to fit an MBA around the demands of a challenging job? Incredibly. Honestly, my classmates who have kids, I do not know how they do it. Luckily for me, it is just me and my wife and she is beyond supportive. But you better strap in and get ready. I cannot tell you the number of nights when I’ve had only three or four hours of sleep, repeated throughout the week, and yet I’ve still had to deliver. You had better be mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to take on one of the most rewarding challenges of your life. If you are an SME owner, I hope you have a great business partner or understanding lieutenants to take up the reigns. If you are senior managers, this is where the mature organisation is vital as you will need your boss’s full support. But in either case, the payback period is immediate. The EMBA is not for the lazy or weak of spirit. If what I said scares you then maybe this isn’t for you…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

How about you? Will you carry on doing what you’ve always done – or strike out and leverage critical change through an MBA programme?

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