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Business Schools

The Value of an MBA

"As an entrepreneur, I've often been asked why I need a business degree. The answer is simple: it's a means to fill in my knowledge gaps"

If you're reading this journal, it's a busy time for you; You're either in the process of applying to business school or contemplating doing so (probably a solid idea, since the marketplace is a roller coaster at the moment). I intend to respect your time, and your mental bandwidth, and your expectation of honesty in my reports.

While I certainly want to convey my excitement about earning my MBA at , my priority and commitment are to you, dear readers. I've been in the media business long enough to recognize that one can never please everyone. As in politics, all one has at the end of the day is integrity. If my colleagues and I all do our jobs properly, then you'll wind up at the school you're "supposed" to attend, and the long-run benefit trickles down to us all.

My reports, therefore, will be as unvarnished and unbiased as possible. Those who know me are well aware that I'm neither subtle nor shy. In class I ask perhaps too many questions, but in print I'll be unequivocal. I am always happy to hear from you; if you'd like clarification or elaboration on any point whatsoever, don't hesitate to reach me by e-mail: .

When a member of the admissions team at Tepper suggested that I submit an entry to's B-School journals (, it was the culmination of months (indeed, years) of work. We had discussed the influence that a previous Tepper MBA Journal contributor, Malcolm Johnson (, 2004), had on my decision to attend the school by offering an "inside scoop" to my fellow prospective and admitted students.

Targetting Tepper

The admissions officer rightly surmised that I would enjoy writing a detailed account of my decision to take a hiatus from the working world and attend business school. After all, once that initial choice to go to school was set, Tepper became a clear target of aspiration. Why not tell the world about it?

He also knew my background: At 22, I became the country's youngest chief editor-publisher of a national magazine—first Citizen Culture, then With This Ring—and remain the youngest member of the American Society of Magazine Editors. I've written for several business publications, including Advertising Age and the trade Web site, while entrepreneurial ambitions have tugged me toward a new, patent-pending high technology: SOMNION Custom Dream Stimulation (a.k.a. "Building The Matrix").

Perhaps what made the opportunity to write for this feature most meaningful was my my brush with BusinessWeek: I once applied for a digital media marketing job with the magazine, only to be told that my background suggested I was too entrepreneurial. The particular hiring manager was unconvinced that I could work in teams; despite my assurances to the contrary, he suspected that I'd always need to be the boss. Shortly thereafter, the compulsion to get an MBA hit me like a truck.

As an entrepreneur, I've often been asked why I need a business degree. The answer is simple: It's a means to fill in my knowledge gaps. After all, though marketing, operations, and strategy are part and parcel of the challenge to publish magazines on a shoestring budget and build experimental dream machines, the process of building businesses doesn't necessarily teach the ins and outs of financial accounting or supply chain management. Yet both are important, and the full range of skill sets makes for a much more desirable, well-rounded job candidate.

Stamp of Approval

Tepper represented my proving ground: Although I'm not great at math, Tepper students fix that problem by necessity. More essentially, while an entrepreneur can succeed on his or her own, a business school student cannot—and companies around the world know that. In other words, to earn an MBA from a top school is to receive an unequivocal stamp of approval. En route to the degree, benchmark coursework must have been completed, team projects must have been successfully presented, keen-eyed and expectant professors must have been wowed. The degree itself becomes like a comprehensive letter of recommendation.

If the business school diploma is an expensive proof-of-purchase (as some have cynically dismissed it), then it is also an exclusive crest forged amid a bonfire of midnight oil and far too much PowerPoint. Top MBA degrees are globally regarded as representing performance standards to which new graduates can be held.

For my part, I love the media industry, but after half a decade of experience in the field (bootsrapping everything from editorial and advertising to public relations and distribution), I'm not sure it's where I want to be 10, 20, 40 years from now. Increasingly, as consumers and content producers find themselves at odds, the "media mix" has shattered like so much frozen crystal. Communication technology remains a pervasive tool—and it can, with kid gloves, be every businessperson's profound ally—but maybe I'll find something else to tickle my fancy.

With the MBA, I'll have an opportunity to apply my knowledge of the media's inner workings across industries, where I can make an impact beyond the page: My foray into magazine publishing was, after all, a five-year tangent out of a background split among neuroscience, religious studies, and the art of negotiation.

Hunt for Talent

A school like Tepper doesn't yet command the name recognition of some of its elite colleagues, so the doors are open a bit wider (as you'll hear in subsequent posts) and resources are more forthcoming because stars are still in the making. Professors, alumni, and—most important—community members not directly affiliated with the school constantly swim like sharks on the hunt for talent. Beyond the complex mathematics they use to make wisely considered decisions, everyone in the Tepper universe commits to rolling up two key real-world skills within such a valuable credential: (a) crunch-time excellence and (b) the prowess to spot an opportunity to shine from beyond a mile away.

Attractive bonuses include professors who "get" their students' ambitions; world-renowned departments ranging from acting to computer engineering; and a class size small enough to guarantee over 100 new Facebook friends before the first day of school. (True story.)

Perhaps after earning my MBA I'll return to the hard sciences, working in "biopharma"—that is, the pharmaceutical or medical device industries. An opportunity might emerge to empower new biomedical technologies through the venture capital and investment banking sides the business; how better to ensure that young and worthwhile startups—like so many I've conceived—flourish while changing our world? A respected MBA makes "all of the above" possible. It's a generalist degree that suggests ability without pigeonholing. In an alumni-studded sky like that over Pittsburgh, though, capital is far more likely to fall out of the sky, attracted by the lightning rod of entrepreneurial fervor.

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