MBAs can help graduates from multiple disciplines progress and thrive in management positions that require strategic thinking, leadership and management skills.
By developing a student’s networks, confidence and relationship, leadership and management skills, an MBA can help candidates stand out – or give them the know-how and self-belief to start their own business. And while there’s no guarantee of a raise, a promotion, or business success, evidence shows they have a very positive impact on career paths.
I needed business acumen. And I’m a glutton for punishment
We spoke to a doctor, a software developer and a senior manager in a pharma firm, about what difference an MBA has made to their careers.
What they wanted
Paediatric urologist Dr Fardod O’Kelly, meanwhile, isn’t the most obvious candidate for an MBA, who might traditionally be expected to come from a more business-oriented background.
“I’d spent so long focusing on sharpening my clinical research skills, and I realised I’d had no exposure to business in medical school or during my postgraduate courses,” he says. “I decided to do it because, first and foremost, I was breaking new ground in Ireland as a paediatric urologist and, essentially, setting up a business and unit. Issues between clinical staff and hospital management occur because we have different focuses and speak different languages. I needed business acumen. And I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Peter Keane is a partner in Each&Other, an award-winning design agency focused on UX (user experience).
“My father did an early MBA in the UCD Smurfit School,” says Keane. “It pivoted his career, but I also saw what a real effort it was. I did the MBA myself after becoming a partner at Each&Other. I had a science degree, I worked in software development and then project management, and I wanted to offer the company more.”
Siobhain Quaid also hails from a science background, spending a number of years working in various technical roles within the pharmaceutical industry. “But I always had a keen interest in business and an MBA seemed like the right fit both personally and professionally. NUI Galway appealed to me because they had an executive programme, with a cohort consisting of people with a number of years of professional experience.” Quaid was also drawn by the programme’s accreditation, the international elements of NUIG’s programme, including overseas trips to work with international firms, and ultimately secured a scholarship through the university’s 30% Club, alleviating some of the financial pressure.
What they got
“At the open evening, I met with current and alumni students and faculty members,” says Quaid. “It presented a raw, first-hand understanding of the undertaking of an MBA – it was by no means pitched as an easy undertaking, [but] rather one that requires a significant personal commitment.”
Keane chose the MBA in TU Dublin, attracted by the location and the course’s accreditation. “Over the two years, we did strategy, financial analysis, economics, human resources, sales, marketing, project management. It really covers all the bases. In final year, you choose different electives and different courses. If someone said I would be doing a dissertation in marketing, I would have laughed at them, but now it’s helped me with our firm’s marketing agenda. I would never have seen it coming.”
It’s such a big time commitment – has it been worth it? “Yes, there’s a time commitment, but factoring in term times and so on, you’re only really at it for half of the year, although there is a larger commitment in the second summer. But thinking of how much time we might spend on Netflix, it is doable.”
Like Keane, O’Kelly wanted a Dublin location, and UCD’s unique triple accreditation sealed the deal for him. He chose a general MBA rather than a healthcare MBA because he wanted a class of students from different backgrounds.
“It is tricky and I am doing a diploma in medical law at the same time. It was not something I took lightly and had to have a long discussion with my wife: we have three young children and she is doing a PhD through the Royal College of Surgeons.
Where they are now
O’Kelly is in year one of his course, while Quaid and Keane have completed their course. “Letters after the name are letters, but I try to find something I can do well and get better each at each time – though the other side gets home, makes dinner and helps the kids with their homework. Ultimately, it is about engagement and relationships with people, and how you relate to people is key.”
What you lack in confidence, skill and knowledge entering into the programme you can be assured you gain in return
Keane is happy where he is right now and doesn’t intend to move. “For me, it wasn’t about looking for a role outside Each&Other; it was about what else I could bring. But I really enjoyed the course itself. There was great camaraderie and I made a lifelong network of friends – and work does come through referrals. There were also some highlights like a trip to Silicon Valley on a study tour where we pitched business ideas to venture capitalists.”
Quaid, who is currently a senior manager at Viatris Pharmaceuticals’ Galway facility, says that completing an MBA provides you with the tools and skills to optimise business performance.
“Leadership development is a huge aspect of an MBA programme. It sounds cliche, but one of the most rewarding aspects was gaining greater understanding of yourself. The experience matures you as a leader. What you lack in confidence, skill and knowledge entering into the programme you can be assured you gain in return. Learnings can be applied almost simultaneously; you bring strategic thinking to all aspects of your work and coupled with the great network gained through the experience, it sets you up for continued success.”
The value of enterprise education
MBAs are often seen as helping to develop entrepreneurs, but what exactly is entrepreneurship education?
Entrepreneurship Education in Business Schools: Best Practices and Recommendations, is a report commissioned by the Equal Network, an organisation that works to improve business education internationally. The 2017 report found that student buy-in is critical to improve entrepreneurship awareness and information, and suggested that business schools could foster interaction with students through close and informal events, while also developing synergies between students, institutions, investors and companies.
Dr Thomas Cooney is a professor in entrepreneurship at a lecturer at TU Dublin. “Entrepreneurship education is widely misunderstood and most frequently seen as an element of business education – or indeed the same thing – or else about new venture creation. But it’s a way of thinking and behaving, and an enterprising mindset helps run a business, not-for-profit or even a volunteer in a sports or social club.”
Cooney says that it is not necessarily about business opportunities but instead about identifying a social need or looking afresh at your work. “The charity FoodCloud, which redistributes surplus food, is a superb example, but so is someone working in a university looking at new ways to deliver their programmes.”
Cooney says that Ireland’s provision is around mid-table but we lack a coherent national strategy. “In Denmark, children who engage in enterprise education at primary level attend school more often, perform better across subjects and have better peer interactions. And while MBAs are not necessarily about new venture creation, they can train people to have that entrepreneurial mindset by pushing boundaries and thinking creatively.”
What skills do MBA students have?
Laura Walshe, a career expert at FindYourPath.ie, says that MBAs do help develop skillsets such as managing, marketing and finance but, more so, they help people to develop a wider confidence.
But it is perhaps the softer skills that are more appealing, with MBA students learning how to solve real-world business problems
“Sometimes it is someone making a career change from outside the corporate world and the MBA can help bridge the gap,” she says. “Other MBAs might be more targeted at people in team leader or management roles, to take on more responsibilities and higher salaries and pay rates.”
Students on any MBA can expect a similar mix of modules, with corporate finance, strategic marketing, human resources, negotiations, enterprise and accounting among the subjects. Data analytics is also increasingly a key part of an MBA education, and most students will complete a project too.
But it is perhaps the softer skills that are more appealing, with MBA students learning how to solve real-world business problems and bringing a focused mindset to their workplaces. MBA graduates can expect to come out with improved communication, leadership, teamwork, research and listening skills. They will be better strategic thinkers with stronger networking skills.
Because they have worked with classmates and other businesses, they should have a better understanding of different perspectives in the workplace. And because MBAs are a fairly intense experience – where students have to manage work, study and family skills – perhaps the most valuable key skill will be time management.