To Be or Not To be: 5 Reasons Why I think I need an MBA

In the summer of 2010, I took a visit to Columbia University during a family trip to NYC after college graduation
In the summer of 2010, I took a visit to Columbia University during a family trip to NYC after college graduation. I didn’t graduate from there 🙂

I loved college. I loved going to lecture and being inspired by the professors. I loved studying at the library, and I even loved taking naps at the library in between classes. I loved attending professor’s office hours to gain new knowledge and perspective. And most of all, I loved being engaged in a vibrant community of like-minded folks composed of young individuals who were hoping to do something in their own special way. I loved the idea of college so much that I aspired to be a professor. That’s what brought to me to the Philippines in the summer of 2010.

The plan was that after graduation, I would go to the Philippines to take a one-month Tagalog class to “enhance” my knowledge of the language that I supposedly “spoke,” spend a couple of months in Manila – to better understand the culture that I supposedly already “knew”- and then go back to the States to apply for doctorate programs in Comparative Literature with a focus on Philippine Literature and Culture. We all know how that story went. Obviously, it didn’t happen the way that I had planned.

I speak in broken Tagalog. I can barely read Filipino, and I’m not pursuing my doctorate.

In fact, I was admittedly against higher education when I returned to the States. I had trouble finding a job, and the job that I ended up finding had nothing to do with what I learned in school. I had this misconception that a college degree would fully prepare me for life after college. Why couldn’t I understand that a degree in English Literature wouldn’t prepare me for the “real world?”

Beats me. However, this stage of angst and indignation definitely passed.

So here I am: three jobs later and two trips to Manila within the past two years, and it looks like education is creeping into my life again.

College Graduation from UCI, June 2010
College Graduation from UCI, June 2010. I’m an Anteater for life! ZOT ZOT! ZOT!

I feel like the culture of education is all around me. In the past two months that I’ve been working with Juan Great Leap, I’ve been learning about startups and entrepreneurship in the Philippines on the ground. Business meetings are like professors’ office hours for me. Coffee chats with fellow entrepreneurs give me that intellectual peer interaction, in which we get to bounce off ideas. The academic grades given are based on a pass or fail system:

Pass– the business makes enough money for you to live.

Fail– the business doesn’t.

The key difference in my life now is that I’m not in school. This is real life. Unexpected stuff happens. There’s no formula to success.

Yet, I’m still thinking about getting that MBA. While I’ve learned that no formal education can prepare you for the spontaneity and challenges of business, I still think that completing an MBA program would benefit me because of the following reasons:

  1. I’m not a genius. Some of the most successful people don’t even finish college let alone pursue an MBA, but I’m not as good as them.
  2. An MBA provides the training and education from some of the brightest and experienced teachers in the world.
  3. It provides its students with an incredible network, much needed in today’s globalized society.
  4. An MBA opens the doors for even more opportunities.
  5. It gives aspiring business leaders a deeper knowledge of business from a bird’s-eye view.

After listing these reasons, I’m not really sure that an MBA is the way for me to go. I haven’t completely convinced myself.

I’ve been learning on the ground and it’s a very effective way to learn, but the pace of learning and the vast knowledge that I will acquire from an MBA is what I feel is necessary for me to take a business to the next level.

I know that there are many different perspectives on the MBA, and I’d really love to hear people’s insights. I think this is a much needed discussion for juniors like me.

Whatever your position on this topic may be, I say CHEERS to aspirations and life goals!

Juan, A Great Leap Please

I am a Filipino startup owner. I began my professional career going up the human resources ladder. I eventually got really tired of this climb and felt the corporate structure stifled me from fully spreading my wings (more on this later), so I took the most significant leap of my professional life. In 2006, I started the HR Technology firm STORM Consulting. After nearly 6 years, through all the ups and downs startups go through, I am pleased to see our firm alive and kicking, impacting employee lives for the better through the provision of HR technology.

Over these years, I have played every role that our startup has needed me to take on: CEO, sales, investor, evangelist, janitorial services, messenger, technical support, you name it, I’ve done it.

There is one key role that I’ve made sure to always be closely involved in: recruitment.

The very minute we needed to recruit our first employee, I felt how different it was from all my years of recruiting for corporations  – the margin for error was much, much smaller, and my expectations for the applicant were much,much higher. It was my money, time, and passion that were at stake, after all.

For all our openings, I’ve always sought out this one truly elusive quality that I felt was so needed in a startup like ours – “entrepreneurial.” This was much more difficult than I thought it would be.

Eventually, I began the process of seeking out partners for new firms I wanted to try out. This made the process even more acute – I now was looking for potential co-owners and partners. Not only did I need people I could trust, but people with grand dreams and the great will to make them happen.

Now, I remember feeling quite excited when I chanced upon Evelyn’s resume. After all, in college she was the president of her school’s entrepreneurial organization. Moreover, she was one of the winners of that young entrepreneurial contest HSBC sponsors. Where was she working?  3 years now for an insurance firm. I was betting there was an itch there she wasn’t exactly scratching.

When we met for coffee, I found that she was all that her impressive resume suggested: a great people person, innovative, self-starter, and yes, entrepreneurial. And yes, it turns out there was an itch she wasn’t scratching. So I went for the kill and presented my offer: 1-year apprenticeship in STORM to learn the startup ropes, then a chance co-own a firm after. I offered a good package, great challenges, potential equity, and mentorship.

The answer was something I’ve been hearing the last five years across hundreds of people.

Not yet.

Writing this is borne out of much more than frustration, it is borne out of concern. Concern for all those startups which never happened. Concern for all the soul-sucking that happens when brilliant people do years of sludgework. Concern for people like Mao, an eloquent applicant I chatted with yesterday whose answer to my question “describe your typical day,” was an unbelievable “I copy-paste all day.”

Yup, there are people who do this all day

Concern for the thousands of not-yets developing into nevers.

I’ve interviewed thousands of people for nearly 15 years now, if you include my time in corporate HR. One generic question I always ask is the “long term plan” question.

Far and away, the two most common answers to the question are a) an MBA, and b) to put up my own business.

Fast forward 15 years after and I see a number of MBA’s around, but where are the new businesses? There should be hundreds of them.

What the hell has happened to all those dreams?

This is a plea for you, the dreamer, the would-be entrepreneur, the future tycoon momentarily biding her time in her corporate cubicle, waiting for just the right circumstances, for the stars to align in just the right way, till she makes that leap.

Take that leap now. The stars will never align. There will be no perfect time. Take that leap now. Our country needs you. Enough excuses. Enough fear.

Take that leap now.