First term down…..

The first term of the Manchester MBA is now officially over. Five exams in four days have been successfully (I hope!) negotiated, ten-thousand word reports have been submitted, celebratory beers have been drunk and temporary farewells wished.What, then, is the verdict on the opening salvo of the course? Has it been the brain draining, sleep sucking monster that we were promised at the start?

Well, yes and no.

It’s true that we had multiple deadlines all converging simultaneously with the aim of pushing you to the limit and forcing you to prioritise your time. However, if I’m completely honest, I didn’t feel it was the complete life-killer that faculty and students warned us about in our first week. I’ve managed to stay relatively sane, completed assignments on time  and still been able to spend time with my kids at the weekend. There has been only two situations where I’ve had to bust out post-midnight shifts and one of those was entirely voluntary (the VCIC contest).

So why don’t I feel that I have been shoved through the mincer backwards? I’ve had a think and have come up with a few possible answers:

  1. It is much easier to manage your time on the MBA than when you are in employment. At work, especially in a client service business, you are only one phone call away from a late nighter. Plans frequently have to be cancelled at short notice and family / friends disappointed. In the MBA there are moments of intense activity but these can be planned for. The deadlines are given to us at the start of term so if you have any sort of organisational skills at all you should be capable of avoiding a pile up.
  2. It doesn’t actually feel like work. Spending an evening boning up on corporate finance may sound dull but it’s what we signed up to do. It sure beats the hell out of staying late at work to complete some client or management request that you know if just going to be buried at the bottom of someone’s virtual filing cabinet.
  3. We can walk away. The sheer fact that we are doing this of our own volition means that you don’t resent it when you do have to work hard. If we don’t like it we always have the option to leave which is strangely liberating.
Of course, the corollary of point 1 is that it is more difficult to manage other peoples’ time on the MBA. In the work environment I had a team who I could incentivise and sanction to ensure they got work delivered on time and to the required standard. On the MBA you are among equals. You have no power to force anyone to do anything. It is the late delivery from a fellow team member that is probably the greatest reason for deadline stress and late night working. I’ve been fortunate so far in that the teams I’ve worked on have been pretty efficient so I haven’t experienced the worst extremes of this syndrome but it’s always there as the biggest potential tripwire.

So what have I learnt in my time so far? I look back three months to a time when I didn’t have a clue about balance sheets, net present value or venture capital exits and its easy to see how far I’ve progressed. However, academics aside and in-keeping with the reflective nature of the MBA, here is my rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly from my learnings over the past three months:

  • My classmates are dedicated to a level I can never know. Travelling halfway across the world, leaving family behind to study an MBA in a foreign language leaves me in awe.
  • Academics’ sartorial standards haven’t improved in the fourteen years I’ve been out of education. Nipple high trouser lines and ill-fitting shirts are still par for the course.
  • The most stimulating elements of the MBA program come from the fringes rather than the core. That’s not to say that finance, accounting, economics and marketing are not important. It’s just that the non-compulsory contests, speakers and debates are the ones that draw you closer to the real business world and engage you in the direct practical questions that will be of most use to you.
  • Learning a few swear words in multiple languages is an easy source of bonding for those upcoming deadlines.
  • Never accept an invitation for a quick lunchtime drink from a Russian. It can only end badly.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year all!

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