February 26, 2013

“Matt, will you write me a recommendation so  I can go to business school? I want to get my MBA,” my colleague Katie Bronnenkant asked me a few years ago.

“Why do you need an MBA? You work in media,” I said dismissively.

At the time Katie and I both worked at MEC, the global media agency, and people with MBAs were rare in advertising. The industry often functioned more as a guild where you learned your job from the people around you, rather than as a profession.

“I need to get an MBA so I can advance my career,” Katie insisted.

“OK,” I said, still not convinced that an MBA would ever have any practical value.

A few months later Katie was accepted into the MBA program at the IE Business School in Madrid. In the meantime, I left MEC to create a technology startup. Over time it became clear that just having an idea wasn’t enough to build a business, though. I would need to raise a significant amount of money from investors to scale the company -- and in order to do that, I needed to write a business plan, build a financial model, and create customer engagement metrics.

What I needed was someone with an MBA.

So when Katie returned from Madrid with her MBA, I hired her as my first employee. It turned out to be one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. The hard skills that Katie brought to our company -- like finance, accounting and analytics -- are essential.

She also developed important soft skills during her study abroad. “The competition in business school forced me to gain confidence and speak my opinions and to know that the work that I produce is of a high quality,” Katie says.
Another big advantage of Katie’s MBA program: it was highly intensive, done in 13 months instead of the normal 21. So she had to get used to reading 500 pages a night, analyzing cases, preparing presentations and working with a small group of classmates. In other words, it was a very fast-paced, demanding environment -- similar to a startup.

The MBA experience also provided Katie with a network of professors and students whom she could lean on for information and advice.

“As my classmates and I continue to grow professionally, we will have many friends in powerful positions in many different sectors,” she says.

The result is that over the past year I have come to rely on Katie’s opinions and insights about our business. I can’t think of a major business decision I’ve made when I haven’t consulted her. Katie’s MBA experience has been an essential ingredient in her growth professionally, as well as our growth as a company.

Whether it is an MBA or advanced skills like applied mathematics, industries like media and technology are demanding increasing levels of expertise and education. It’s time to get ready!

By Matt Straz
Matt Straz was a senior partner at MEC from 2002-2008. He is currently the CEO of Namely.
Courtesy of MediaPost.

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