A Twelve Year Post-Mortem on an MBA Education

By Travis H. Brown

My wise economics professor and honors school adviser once told me, “Travis you can go broad, or you could go deep” into the career choices you make. By most accounts, my Washington University Masters in Business Administration completed from 1998-2000 was a decision to go broad. Twelve years later, it continues to serve me well.

Having an MBA under your belt from a major university helps expose you to a broad sets of disciplines, such as finance, marketing, management, and statistics. However, it was equally true that knowledge came as much from the real-life experience of your peers, as it did from your assignments or professors.

Washington University really understood this concept when I attended their programs, in Saint Louis, and in London for a summer in international finance.  Unlike the post-mortem reviews of most lawyers from the same institutions, teamwork was encouraged for true win-win scenario planning. Since many of our case studies were from actual corporate histories across many industries, it was likely that someone in the room was there when the decisions were made. Since this broad-based training tends to function like how real work gets done for customers, I cannot think of anyone who graduated who would have been better elsewhere.

Having said that, it’s astounding how fast the seasons pass before 12 years have expired. It still seems like most of what we learned, minus a few asset pricing models here and there, is still very relevant to our professions. By comparison, I know many others who chose to “go deep” into one technical degree who are no longer practicing with it. To be clear, I hold in high regard anyone who chose a different expert path. However, it seems like if that description fits you, you had better know for certain early on.

I do not know of any entrepreneur that hasn’t had to wear multiple hats to get started, survive, or thrive with their ventures. For most, a broad exposure to many things will help ensure that you can draw upon those intellectual assets later like a google data archive on a new blog posting for creative thinking. Most business schools also intentionally inundate you with more data and information than you should rightfully need to use. The same can be said for entrepreneurship: it must balance analysis with action in order to function.

Business school also reinforced that learning is both formal and informal. Most importantly, it is lifelong. While everyone’s style may be different, embracing this attitude into daily and weekly habits will help ensure that you find success at the crossroads of luck and preparation.

“I dream my painting and then paint my dream.”  — Vincent Van Gogh