• How the MBA Changed my Life

    David Falzani
    President Sainsbury Management Fellows

    CEO of a consulting company Polaris Associates, David has extensive executive and strategic business development experience in various industries. David began his consultancy career with LEK Consulting which recruited him from the prestigious Wharton School in Pennsylvania.

    David has worked with a wide variety of clients including IBM, British Bakeries, Kingfisher, BAE Systems, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, 3i and Cooperative Bank. Additionally, David is a Visiting Professor at Nottingham University Business School.

    Let me start by saying that in my opinion an MBA is a beginning, not a destination in its own right. No MBA can hope to make you any kind of expert in one or even two years in as fluid and nebulous a field as business. It does however offer a good introduction.

    In starting my MBA I think I had a well-researched set of objectives and intentions. I already knew that a top MBA would double my salary. I knew I would receive a useful network of contacts, a toolbox of functional business skills and have a call upon the school’s all important brand name to supplement my own.

    What did surprise me was the extensive rewiring of my brain that seems to have been an unintended but virtuous side effect of the crucible of learning environment. To illustrate this point, my first job after my MBA was a role with a leading strategy consulting house (yes I know, you may well call it “falling into the management consultancy trap”, but I call it a good place to consolidate new skills).

    These firms are quite notorious in the hours they can require you to spend. The economy was booming and it was busy: I averaged some 70 hours per week in my first year. But my point is that I recall this seeming like a bit of a holiday compared to the MBA.

    The MBA really was an expansion process that, yes, increased my understanding of how business works, but it also quietly stretched my brain into something new and improved. It was also one of the most rewarding periods of my life in all kinds of ways.

    Spending 40, 50, 60 hours a week with the same group of people involved forming friendships and relationships that were quite different to the norm, and remain priceless. Also, the richness of the environment was astounding. Imagine being surrounded by world class faculty, interesting intelligent colleagues, being set continually stretching challenges; a learning machine wrapped all around you to whet your appetite and then satisfy it, and an addictive growing sense that anything was possible. If I could have stayed on for another year on my MBA, I would have jumped at the chance.

    Post MBA, the fun continued. The opportunity to launch a start up business came via my classmates.  The confidence to raise venture capital funds came from the MBA. We may have missed the IPO window with that venture but the lessons learned were incorporated into the framework set down during the MBA. The next role was more demanding: a tech turnaround. The next: a service business. And so the fun continues today.

    Fast forwarding a few years, I still marvel at how those lessons gave me an ability to immediately understand the larger business picture, and the sense of confidence that such insight brings.

    That MBA was a set of starting blocks (if we’d made that IPO I would have said launch pad!) for a learning journey that continues to intrigue and challenge, and there’s no sign of it getting boring or processional any time soon.

    In answering how the MBA changed my life, I should also ask myself what would the last 15 years have been like if I hadn’t done the MBA. Would I have been more successful? I honestly don’t know. After all, the vast majority of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and business persons don’t have an MBA, and many haven’t attended any university, let alone business school.

    Would I be better informed? I think it’s unlikely. As I say, as an introduction to business a good MBA is hard to beat.  But would I have had more fun? I seriously doubt it.


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