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Choosing the right program for a MBA

I am looking into getting my MBA.  I'd like to switch fields and see the degree as a good way to help.  What I'd like to know is if I should go for an expensive, ranked school or a significantly less expensive program? 

There are two really good schools in my area and a few smaller, less expensive ones that aren't as good.  How important is the school to a potential employer? 

Your thoughts are appreciated.

Answers

Ken Kaufman
Title: CFO
Company: Community Dental Partners
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Community Dental Partners) |

The importance of the school differs by employer. My sense is that the better the school, the more opportunities you may have access to once you graduate. If the lesser school creates the opportunities you want, then go for it. Remember, the same education in MBA school is available in books and through lots of other means...but the degree, not the education, can create opportunities. It really depends on you.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Ken is spot on. Look at the MBA as a way to open opportunities. Not just for the next job, but for your career. The less expensive schools in your area may be recognized by local employers and if you are looking to stay in the same place, that may be all you need. But you may be limiting your future opportunities by not going to a recognized "brand." If you are going to make the effort which will be difficult, why deal with a potential drawback?

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

A slight counter-point - that "Brand", depending on where you go can be an asset or liability if the company is brand "X" conscious.

Also, there are only a handful of B schools that have a national/international Brand effect (i.e. Columbia, Harvard, etc), a larger group that have a regional effect and then many that will give you an excellent education with little or no non-local branding effect.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Here's some rather surprising stats from the Russell Reynolds study on Fortune 100 CFOs.

- Sixty-two percent, or almost 2/3, of Fortune 100 CFOs hold advanced degrees.

- Fifty-four percent hold an MBA with half of those coming from a Top 25 business school.

-Only twelve percent received their undergraduate degree from an Ivy League institution.

http://www.russellreynolds.com/content/where-do-chief-financial-officers-cfos-come-from?goback=%2Egmp_2864086%2Egde_2864086_member_159151654

That said, I agree with Ken and Regis that an MBA from a top-rated school is a differentiator AND does matter to some companies. Whatever you decide, stay away from the "Phoenix" type degrees. They are not held in much esteem.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Great facts. Thanks for sharing Cindy.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

You are very welcome, Regis.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Here's the "thing" about an MBA. If it is a "requirement" of the company hiring criteria, sans a great network you may not be able to get around that issue, particularly if there is a middle man (recruiter or HR person).

With the trend towards more general management responsibilities that are viewed through the finance lens, I believe an MBA can only benefit a candidate - even a 40-something who plans to work another 15-20 years - if he is motivated to seek that advanced degree. Companies love life-long learners, and while a degree or credential doesn't trump contributions, it does -usually- ensure that the candidate meets the minimum requirements.

Chris Holtzer
Title: Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis
Company: Sargento
(Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis, Sargento) |

First of all, thanks for the great information Cindy.

I don’t disagree with what is said, but keep in mind that numbers can be portrayed many ways.

Devil’s Advocate: Surveying the fortune 100 for educational information is a kin to a political survey in Orange County. It’s going to be heavily one sided, because the sample is knowingly bias. Also it is such a small sample, that it would be well within the margin of error on a sample size that was 10% of US companies. The US Census shows approximately 6 million companies with payrolls in 2008. http://www.census.gov/econ/smallbus.html

Another major piece that the fortune 100 ignores is markets. You can bet that most fortune 100 companies are in HQ’d in major metro areas. This isn’t a bad thing, just a lack of diversity in information that may weight data one way or the other.

david waltz
Title: Assistant Treasurer
Company: Integrys Energy Group
(Assistant Treasurer, Integrys Energy Group) |

One way to help determine if the school is right is by looking at what companies recruit there, as they will be most likely to esteem the institution's "brand" as has been discussed here.

While an MBA will help for that first job out of school, the value decays fairly rapidly after that role to be replaced by actual experience. Make sure to build a good portfolio of "bullet points" with that first role.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Is there a point in one's career where getting an MBA loses it's career enhancing potential (i.e. you've already attained a certain experience level)? I'm now 12 years into my career but am still eyeing an MBA. Perhaps when my younger child is a little older. I'm interested in the views of the community.

Topic Expert
Linda Wright
Title: Consultant
Company: Wright Consulting
(Consultant, Wright Consulting) |

Ken, I will say that I had employees work like crazy to get their MBA's mid-stream in their careers with my former employer and see no benefit accrue to their careers or comp there. I think the degree is an asset in presenting yourself to new employers.

Note: I do have an MBA from UC Berkeley and have found the tool kit and contacts to be valuable.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Thanks Linda. So the main benefit is marketing yourself to new employers.

Cindy's stats are compelling. I am curious when most of those CFO's actually obtained their advanced degrees.

Anonymous
(Contract Accountant) |

Thank you everyone for your comments. I am looking to move on. I don't think one would need an undergraduate degree for my current position. The 80k school is "the best" in the region while the 30k school is well known in the region, but I don't think as a fantastic business school. I am still relatively young (early 30's) so I think the investment is definately worth it.

Thank you again.

Harold D. Tamayo
Title: Vice President of Finance
Company: MHA Inc., a Roper Technologies Company
LinkedIn Profile
(Vice President of Finance, MHA Inc., a Roper Technologies Company) |

In my view, if you are serious about pursuing an MBA (and paid out of your own pocket), then you should try to get into the best MBA program in the nation (or globally) that you can get into. If you are being fully sponsored by your employer (sort of rare now days I think), then most likely you will need to find a local program so you can manage work and school.

In addition, look at the field & industry that you want to get into (or switch to) in order to make your choice of the top-tier MBA programs. Also, top business programs draw top talent which would lead you to learn more from the interaction with those people. Furthermore, those top programs also draw the top companies for recruitment.

In my experience, CFOs have a large diverse background in finance. The MBA can teach some basics but the field is so technically broad that unless the person has done the jobs/roles, is very hard to assume that theories in class rooms will make-up gaps in learning.

Cindy Kraft, very interesting info!

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Thanks Harold. I thought the info was quite interesting as well.

It would be interesting to know the ages of those folks who went back and got their MBAs, Ken. I'm not sure if - or even where - that information might be available. My best guess would be it was in the 30-40 (give or take a few on the upper end) age range.

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