What I really learnt on the Manchester MBA

Last time out I gave you my highlights of the Manchester MBA. Now, as promised, I’m giving you the rundown on my key learnings from the programme.

Don’t worry, this won’t be a dull review telling you that I now know how to calculate net present value or can recite Porter’s Five Forces ad nauseam. No, this is about taking it away from the academic side and and focusing on the lessons I’ve learnt that will be of real value to me in my new life.

So without further ado, are the top 5:

5) Profit isn’t really profit. All those news items you read saying such and such a bank made £Xbn profit or such and such a retailer made a whopping £Xbn loss? Not strictly true. At least not in the sense that the average layman would understand. Financial accounting is very different to the world of cash. Profits can be made on property values accumulating without any of that property actually being sold. Losses can accrue when a company says some of its assets are not worth as much as they previously thought (e.g. News International and MySpace). Crucially, all of this can occur without a company’s fundamental ability to pay its bills being affected at all. Sadly the attention-deficient media only focus on the attention-grabbing headlines without digging deeper to uncover the real story. Profit is just for show, cash flow is all that really matters to a company’s survival.

4) Work is work and life is life. Often at the workplace we kid ourselves that what we are doing is more important than it really is. Just because we have a deadline and a client whingeing in our ear does not mean we are saving lives. For most of us (with the honourable exceptions of nurses, doctors, firemen, etc) when we are lay on our deathbed we’re not going to reflect on how glad we are that we stayed at work until midnight to finish that powerpoint presentation. Despite being surrounded by ambitious young thrusters, the MBA did give me that space to crystallize the truth that most of the things you do at work pale into insignificance next to family, friends and contentment during the very little time we have on this earth. Your job is not that important. Get over it.

3) If you’re not learning what are you doing? In most of our jobs we invariably end up stuck in a rut, doing the same thing as last year but struggling to put a different twist on it to try and keep it interesting. As per point 4 we also kid ourselves that what we are doing is important as a reason to avoid getting the hell out of there. The intellectual stimulation and challenge of an MBA makes you realise that sitting in a place where your brain is rotting from lack of stimulus is equivalent to letting the best years of your life drain from the hourglass without so much as a by or leave. Get out of there and challenge yourself.

2) It’s not what you know but who you know. This is something that my dad has been saying since I was a lad. While half knowing this to be true I always clung to the notion that hard work and talent would be enough to ensure you progress in your career. The MBA has only confirmed that my dad was right. If you look at those from our class who secured jobs earliest and at the most “glamorous” financial firms it wasn’t the people who worked their tushes off to get the best grade. Rather it was those who spent their time skipping class to relentlessly network and get contacts at their target companies. In this internet age where every job posting is flooded with thousands of online applications, hiring managers frequently don’t bother to look at any of these submissions. Instead they review only the CV’s that colleagues push under their nose. How do you get your CV in this pile? Networking and creating rapport with key influencers in that firm of course. This doesn’t mean that you should forget the academics altogether (what would be the point of the MBA after all), it just means that you should take the space that the MBA gives you to in order to reach out to, and impress, people who have the ability to help advance your career.

1) Don’t underestimate yourself. In the working world we can often be sat in meetings with people who seem to be absolutely certain of what they are talking about. In the face of such confidence we can often begin to doubt ourselves, feeling that other people are probably best to run this company. The MBA has taught me to back myself. The challenges that I have taken up and succeeded in whether they be academic, sporting or in international competition have shown me that I shouldn’t sit back and defer to others with the innate talent of speaking as though born to rule or with the chuzhpah to blag that they are the font of all wisdom. I know I can take on the biggest challenges and succeed.

And that is precisely what I intend to do….


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