A guest post from Philip Delves Broughton, a former Paris bureau chief for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. Broughton graduated from Harvard Business School in 2006 and is the author of The Art of the Sale: Learning From the Masters About the Business of Life (Penguin Press, 2012).
How many MBA students go to business school eager to learn operations management? It’s one of those subjects, like leadership, that most students suffer through only to wish once they are out in the world that they had paid more attention.
Operations may not have the immediately obvious career appeal of finance or strategy. But anyone who makes it their focus will have an enormous advantage when they graduate.
The recent troubles Apple (AAPL) has had in China have demonstrated how operations can trip up even the most glittering corporate reputation. As more and more companies follow the Apple model, of building sophisticated global supply chains while keeping top management, marketing, and design in their home market, operations drives everything.
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook made his name under Steve Jobs by building the supply chain relationships now giving his company grief. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), conquered the Wall Street jungle in large part due to his mastery of the complex information technology platforms relied on by global banks. Michael Bloomberg ran systems development at Salomon Brothers before launching his company, based on his insight into the technology systems bond traders really needed. That company, Bloomberg L.P., owns Bloomberg Businessweek.
Salaries for MBAs taking operations management jobs after graduation are rarely as high as those for consultants and banking associates. But they can quickly catch up. If you succeed in operations, your success will be highly visible. Chances are, you will be able to take on a process and improve it with far more autonomy than your banking and consulting peers.
There tends to be a lot more low-hanging fruit in operations than in areas of business already overcrowded with MBAs with the same ideas and interests. How many MBAs want to go and run a factory when they graduate? Or manage a fast-food company or large retail chain? And yet, how many would like to be CEO of General Electric (GE) or Apple?
Mastering operations challenges early in your career, when most other MBAs have gone elsewhere, is the purest kind of general management you could ask for. And it will set you up brilliantly for whatever comes next.