Saturday, June 4, 2011

MBA Graduation Anniversary

This month marks the 20th anniversary of my graduation from graduate school.  While a milestone, I don't look back at the period fondly. 

Upon my graduation from St. John's, my dad offered some really poor advice in strongly suggesting I attend grad school immediately.  Since it was the late 80's, with 8%+ unemployment and a tough job market, it was easy to listen to his advice.  While my undergrad GPA was not that hot (3.2 - I did not apply myself as much as I should have in school) I scored a very strong 81st percentile in my GMAT, so when I applied to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, despite not having any true business background, I was accepted. 

Unfortunately, my dad's advice could not have been more wrong. 

I began the day program immediately the fall of my graduation, and lived in a studio apartment on my own in Cedar Square West.  Beyond school, the culture shift of a suburban boy living alone in a tough urban environment was very hard.  So, in my first week there, when a young black kid sped past me on the stairs with terror in his eyes and holding his stomach (which was bleeding profusely from either a gun or knife wound), I was ill equipped to process it.  At all. 

School itself was a nightmare.  Group work was critical for success, and the pack quickly identified who the strong and weak team players were.  As a student straight from undergrad, with no business experience, and with a strong stench of being intimidated, I was quickly relegated to the "B" groups - weaker players and foreign students.  Despite working harder than I ever had in my life, I could not make the necessary progress.  This was exacerbated by being tied to foreign group-mates; their tuitions paid by rich relatives or their governments, coasting and allowing me (and others) carry far more than our share. 

A prime example - for our MIS class, we were to break a very sophisticated case into a detailed decision tree, and then supplement it with a written document of why we did what we did, and the worth of the decision that ultimately came out of the end of our analysis.  Three out of the five in our group did all the work - from breaking down the case to tree development to rough draft of the write up.  One of the two that did nothing volunteered to type up the paper.  Given that he hadn't done anything to that point, we appreciated him at least doing something, and were happy to be "complete" with our project.  In class two days later, the man who offered to type the paper (Sudir - I will never forget his name), didn't show up once class started.   Throughout the two hour class my group members and I traded panicked looks, and at the second break I rushed down to the student union to try and call Sudir and find out what was happening.  I was relieved when he picked up the phone, but that relief quickly turned to terror as he stammered "Uh, we have a problem..."  Despite pleading our case to the professor at the end of class, the prof's decision was immediate and final - no paper, no grade.  Enjoy the "F."  I was forced to drop the class (no refund) rather than absorb the hit to my GPA.  Thus were the risks of being part of a bad group. 

At this point in my life things careened off of the tracks, both at school, at my part-time job, and with my relationships.  I quickly feel into a horrific clinical depression that just about put me in the hospital, and just about cost me my life.  Though my family and a couple of really lucky breaks (or divine intervention as I like to view it) I was able to get the help I needed, and I recovered fairly quickly.  Through the whole process it was clear that the full-time MBA program was not for me, and I needed to go get a job.  If possible, I could finish my education through the evening program. 

And that is exactly what I did. 

I was fortunate to work for a company that paid my tuition, and I took one or two classes every period without fail.  The evening classes were made up of no full-time students; just folks working during the day and trying to further their education at night.  My comfort and confidence in class grew immensely, and I finally held my own in the contentious class discussions that were used not only to prove how good your point was, but how stupid others' were.  I finally belonged. 

However, night school had its own set of difficulties.  I was already working long hours in my job, and my class load afforded no breaks.  For three long years I could never relax and had the constant feeling that I needed to be reading something, working on a paper, or otherwise working.  While it was hell, it was nothing compared to some of my peers that had more demanding jobs and/or kids.  How those folks did it, I'll never know. 

So when I look back on this anniversary, I ask myself: was it worth it?  Good question.  My MBA did help me in my career as it opened positions to me that likely would not have been opened without it.  It greatly shaped how I view business as I'm able to see things far more holistically based on my education.  It also enhanced and extensively honed my innate strategic capabilities.  I'm definitely farther in my career because of it.  But damn, it was a long, hard road.  It was clearly the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. 

So twenty years ago, when I graduated with the first grad school degree ever bestowed on my family (which was quickly followed by my brother and sister), I felt pride, exhaustion, and relief.  All of those emotions have since faded, and what's left is an appreciation of how lucky I was.  Things could have turned out quite differently - academically, career, and otherwise.              


  1. What possessed you to move into the Ghetto In The Sky? It is amazing to see how much our lives overlapped. I probably walked past you many times on campus without ever knowing it.

  2. House Baby,
    Ignorance brought me to Cedar Square. That and the proximity to the West Bank.

    Wish I would have bumped into you back in the day.

  3. Well, you did soon enough. Of course, washing your socks was a major priority in your life.

    Love the Yellow Dog.


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