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The world needs masters of business for all seasons

Published on Friday, 22 Jun 2012
Michael Ferguson
Photo: CUHK

Many are saying that we are in one of the worst employment markets since the last decade. This is somewhat exaggerated, yet probably appealing, to most of our friends in Europe and the US. Interestingly, MBA admission numbers are often viewed as a “reverse” economic indicator. The worse the economy is, the more student applications, particularly for full-time MBA programmes.

The logic is that many applicants will perceive lower opportunity costs in full-time study in a slow economy (quitting their job or being made redundant), and that they will return to a better job market with a stronger, more competitive skill set. Makes sense, right?

But this only looks at the cost side of the MBA investment equation; the other side is the “return”. Only when your return is high and your cost low does an MBA make investment sense.   

Note that “return” need not – and, in fact, should not – focus solely on salary. For many, a full-time MBA is a vehicle for career change as well as advancement, and opportunities for personal and professional growth and job satisfaction should also be key factors. So, how can MBA candidates optimise their return? 

The answer is that the return largely depends on how you plan for it. As Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, advises, in everything you do “begin with an end in mind”.

For an MBA, this means defining your “where” and “how” after you decide on “what” (getting an MBA) and “when”. Where is your career destination and how is your plan to get there? 
Ask yourself these key questions: What is my career goal? What do I want to get from my MBA? Which school or programme would best satisfy my needs? Does your target school have a big network of alumni working in the industry or function that you would like to move into?

Do they have a culture of alumni giving back to the school – that is, an alumni mentoring or coaching programme, a strong alumni office and an active group? Do they have a strong presence in the centre of growth (no doubt China and Asia this century)?

An MBA is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime investment. A slow economy should only serve to kick-start the thinking process. An MBA undoubtedly provides a new platform for your future – a chance to find out what you prefer and enjoy, to equip yourself, and broaden your business and personal perspectives.  

An MBA can be an eye-opening, thought-provoking, life-enriching experience that equips you with the critical tools to weather the storm and thrive – but only if you have the right plan.

Associate Professor Michael Ferguson is Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) and Director of MBA Programs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong

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