Tag Archives: Studying

USA or Europe – Where to Study for your MBA?

292070 from Stock Exchange for MBA USA v Europe Article
You will do your MBA once, so it’s important to choose an environment that enriches your journey.  Ambitious young professionals come to their MBA programme with personalised goals and objectives, so there is no ‘best’ country in which to study. There are pros and cons to both the American and European system, so it’s a case of deciding what’s best for you.  Here, we highlight some features of both systems which may help with your decision-making.

The MBA qualification was invented in the USA – it had the institutions in place, the knowledge, passion and the need.  It probably suited the existing university platform to have business schools, which did not pre-exist in Europe.  With such an august heritage, the USA has developed big brand schools such as Harvard and Stanford, which are known worldwide.  While studying at any top business school gives you kudos and enhances your own brand, gaining an MBA from an Ivy League business school adds weight.

When Size Matters

One of the biggest contrasts between European and USA schools is that American schools are usually much bigger. They tend to sit on top of well-established large universities which broaden the learning opportunities. For instance, at Wharton School in Pennsylvania there are some 1,500 courses from which students can choose their elective.  This is possible because students have access to the entire law school, medical school, engineering school as well as the business school. Imagine you wanted to specialise in micro-electronic bio-medicine because you saw an business opportunity in that area; you could specialise in something that you find intensely interesting and design your own finale!   European schools do not typically sit on top of a larger educational system except in name and therefore have much fewer courses from which to choose an elective.

The Faculty
The top business schools all have first-class faculty, but America tends to lead the field, attracting world class authors of business books and published works, because they leverage such an impressive academic base.  For example, Philip Kotler, arguably the number one marketing guru in the world, is a lecturer at Kellogg School of Management; Dr Dipak Jain, who is now dean at INSEAD, was previously Dean at Kellogg and Michael E. Porter is affiliated with Harvard.

European faculties are becoming increasingly competitive and have big hitters and famous publications too – Blue Ocean Strategy, probably the most famous business book published in recent years, was written by two INSEAD professors, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne at The Blue Ocean Strategy institute.

Course Length
USA schools run longer programmes; two years is the norm, though they can be completed in 16 months by working through the summer and some of the modern courses can be shortened further. The advantage of longer courses is breathing space – you have more time to reflect on learning and absorb yourself in projects of special interest. This, of course, is only feasible if your circumstances and resources allow two years study, as programmes in the USA are much more expensive.

European MBA programmes are shorter – INSEAD’s course lasts 10 months, which makes for an extremely intensive period of learning. Undertaking an exercise as costly as an MBA in a shorter time frame is obviously advantageous, but you need to consider if this suits your personal learning style. A longer course is more accommodating to personal growth; based on what you learn you may want to change direction and specialise in a different area. Will a shorter course provide sufficient time for reflection and to evolve?  For some people the shorter course will be ideal and studying for two years would not be fast-paced enough or suit their personal circumstances.

International Experience
Gaining international experience is a key component of MBA programmes. The top USA business schools are extremely international, exposing you to a very different environment to normal surroundings and forces you to organise your life accordingly.  Studying in Europe (outside the UK), you have the added challenge and benefit of learning a new language. If you choose to study in your home country, you will still be exposed to an international group, as the schools attract students from all over the world (European schools probably have about 60% overseas contingent) but studying overseas gives a more international perspective in business experience and knowledge, you will interact with a larger number of international students and develop a truly international network.

European business schools are becoming more international in their structure – Nottingham  University Business School is a good case in point; now it also has campuses in Malaysia and Singapore.  Students can start their studies in one location and finish in a different, more exotic environment!

Business School Culture
Choosing the right business school is not only about the academic programme and unrivalled facilities, it’s also about your personality and where you will feel most comfortable and can shine.  Here too, there is an important difference between the USA and European schools – it is said that top American business schools produce a highly competitive ‘Type A’ personality environment, filled with similar supercharged people, many of whom aspire to become entrepreneurs in specific fields.  By contrast, European schools attract a broader mix of personality types and it is speculated that they produce a larger number of graduates who move into consultancy careers.

Gaining a place in either a USA or European business school is equally challenging and competitive, so make sure you choose one that fits your personality as well as your academic and career ambitions.

Teaching Styles
Look into the different approaches to teaching. European schools devote much more time to classroom teaching, which is a plus if your personal learning style lends itself to more frequent tutoring.  American schools give students more ‘free time’ to pursue areas that interest them. Also, check how assignments must be presented and be clear about the schools’ grading policy (who grades, can grades be challenged, are grades confidential or shared with others, such as recruiters?) – these will differ by country and school. European schools have more international standards such as GAAP (general accepted accounting principles), whereas American schools have their own GAAP.  Though, in reality, the content of both are similar.

Alumni and Milkrounds
Finally, compare the differences between the USA and European models beyond the MBA programme itself.  Both models have strong alumni organisations and recruitment support but many argue that the American model is unrivalled.  American schools have large, very well-funded alumni organisations, and their milk rounds and recruitment assistance are broader and deeper than in European schools. Because American schools are bigger and operate in a much larger economy, every blue-chip company goes to their favourite schools to seek out talent and provide big financial incentives to recruit the candidates they want.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

[photo: Subin]


A Two Year Transition – My MBA Journey

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SMF Gil Rabbie

It’s almost two years to the day, when after 6.5 years as a loyal employee, climbing up the ranks of the corporate hierarchy, through manufacturing, operations and project management roles – I resigned, to pursue my MBA at London Business School (LBS). Looking back now, I can recall the anxiety of not only losing my steady income but also the unease I had about ‘jumping ship.’ After all, this was my first and only full-time job after graduating from Imperial College as a chemical engineer back in 2004. I quickly realised that the ship I had seemingly jumped was far more resilient to my departure than I had previously felt.

I had considered making a career switch to a commercial direction for some time and eventually decided that I wanted to achieve that by learning best practices, cross-functionally from all over the business world: Understanding corporate strategy in addition to how to finance start-up ventures, appreciating macroeconomic growth trends as well as improving negotiating and other communication skills. I felt that an MBA would be the best way to combine what I had learnt ‘on the shop-floor’ and build a broader sense of perspective on those foundations. Furthermore, studying at a top-quality international business school, would provide a globally recognised qualification, a valuable lifelong network and not least, enable a better return on the heavy investment expected.

The research, preparation and significant application process took me over a year, particularly as I had little down-time at work, with one project after another requiring my time and attention. With GMAT scores in place, essays written and references gathered I was determined to make my application successful first time, as the window of opportunity for completing a full-time programme was closing steadily. Engineer that I am, I systematically considered my choice of school and concluded that with my desire to study in an internationally focused school with a mature student body that encompassed a range of experiences and crucially, my plans to work in London immediately after the programme – the best school for my purposes was right here in Europe. Ultimately, I chose London Business School as it offered everything I was looking for and moreover, was close to home making it easier on my personal life and expense outlay.

The two years at LBS have gone by like a flash. No sooner had I begun to take in the mass of new information from coursework and academic life, was it time to make the career switch and in particular, find an internship for the summer – my number one priority. Nevertheless, I tried to remind myself throughout, that the enormous wealth of opportunity to learn and try new things as well as a vibrant network of new friends and contacts was not going to last long – all of which resulted in a busy schedule full of activities, some 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I attended a plethora of interesting talks, conferences and seminars, apart from my required studies which I found by and large, to be truly eye-opening and thought-provoking, particularly the electives I took.

I spent my summer after the first year gaining experience in strategy consulting, through an internship at The Boston Consulting Group, in its London office. In addition to developing my ‘consultant toolkit’ of analysis and presentation skills, I also had the opportunity to learn about the activities which the firm and office are involved with, in more depth and how they are impacting business thinking at the most senior levels. I was delighted to receive a full-time offer at the end of the internship and intend to commence my full-time post-MBA career at BCG London.

Whilst at LBS, I also became heavily involved in student leadership roles, becoming the president of the Running Club as well as the Industry Club. This not only gave me fantastic experience to try out, in a fairly ‘risk-free’ manner, some of the tactics and ideas I had picked-up in the classroom and from previous experience, but also widened my circle of friends and professional contacts even further. I even achieved a few unique firsts, including a triathlon and organising a conference.

Additionally, the flexibility of student life and in particular the second year at LBS, offered the chance to pursue some personal priorities, which would be more challenging in full-time employment. The first was taking quite a few trips abroad including sailing in Antigua, hiking in the Indian Himalayas and wine-tasting in South Africa.

Gateway of India

Holi – festival of colours, experienced with the locals at The Gateway of India – Mumbai

The second and most important of all, was deciding with my wife to become parents for the first time and our daughter was born at the end of my first year of studies (in fact, on the day of my final exam!). That transition has been my most momentous and fulfilling of all.

So all in all, I have had two hectic and intense years during which time I learned an enormous amount: completely repositioning my career in a commercial trajectory whilst at the same time developing myself immensely and building a significant network of contacts and close friendships. Having just had my graduation and with work restarting imminently – the future seems full of promise and opportunity from where I am sitting. I also know there will continue to be plenty of challenges, but I doubt I would have gone down this path, if I did not highly relish those…

Finally, my advice for those who may be considering the MBA may be somewhat surprising having read the above. I believe it’s not a benefit to everyone and is a need for few. That is to say, the course and learning that comes around it, are only as good as what you make of the experience and the same goes for graduates returning to the workplace: there will be those that revert to what they feel comfortable with and there will be those that seek to continue to learn and push the boundaries of what is possible. I intend to be the latter and much of that desire has been driven by the fundamentals and the flames of ambition that have been further fuelled by the MBA. I am in no doubt that this was the right decision for me and I know that, without the help of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship my experience would have been very different, perhaps even non-existent and for all this – I am immensely grateful.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.


How the MBA Changed my Life

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SMF James Dunbar is an Analyst, Refining; Logistics Technology on the Future Leaders Programme at BP.

Has an MBA has changed my life? Back in 2006, I was in a Middle Eastern desert with the Royal Air Force, reviewing whether we had enough PGMs for combat operations. Here I am in 2012, looking at the capital portfolio for BP, reviewing whether we have enough PGMs for business operations.

In 6 years, I’ve gone from worrying about Precision-Guided Munitions, to Project General Managers. Anyone who has ever changed companies or industries will talk about wrestling with a new business dialect. But it’s not just the language that I needed to make this change; it’s the knowledge to lead at both a tactical and strategic level. That’s what the MBA gave me.

Commissioning into the Royal Air Force in 2002 was my first career-changing leap. The military encourages officers to accept leadership responsibility very early in their career and I thrived in these circumstances, building on engineer training to successfully deploy military aircraft to trouble spots around the world and manage projects across the Tornado fleet. Leading 110 technicians on operations, mentoring junior officers and managing discipline challenges are experiences that will stay with me forever – and not easily explained to some of my more sheltered colleagues! My RAF service also helped me complete my chartership and a second undergraduate degree (in engineering management). After a hugely enjoyable six years, I felt that my future career in the RAF would re-tread familiar roles and I wanted a new challenge.

A stint as a project manager for Bombardier Transportation helped me quickly realise how much I didn’t know about applying my experience to the commercial sector! I needed to re-orientate my leadership skills to managing in the business context – much as I had developed military knowledge for a successful career with the RAF. An MBA seemed to provide the transition I was looking for.

After a lengthy application process, I was lucky enough to get a place on the full-time MBA at London Business School. This world-leading institution reflected environments I really enjoy: highly collaborative, very academically challenging and employing a global view. Deciding to undertake an MBA is a big decision – it’s a massive investment. Winning the funding of a Sainsbury Management Fellowship, awarded through the Royal Academy of Engineering, was the decisive factor in making this second career-changing leap. I think an MBA should give you three real advantages: technical skills, commercial leadership skills, and a powerful peer network. That’s exactly what I got from LBS, taking courses as diverse as advanced corporate finance, strategy, business communication, acquisition management, negotiating; bargaining, risk analysis, and accounting.

The scholarship not only enabled me to go to business school, but also gave me access to an invaluable network of nearly 300 SMF professionals with a vast range of experience and knowledge. This network led me to several academic studies during my MBA, my first consulting contracts after graduation and continues to be a source of professional advice – as well as a great advertisement for the benefits of engineers as industry leaders.

After the MBA, I wanted to work in a global engineering-related business that actually produced something tangible, where I could use the skills to make a strategic difference, but still benefit from my experience of managing in a safety-critical environment. Whilst at LBS, I was lucky enough to attend the CBI conference, where I heard CEO Bob Dudley talk about the turnaround of BP. I had not seriously considered the energy industry before, but the values he described directly matched what I was looking for. Fortunately, the company was looking to start its Future Leaders Programme, to develop a more diverse leadership talent pool in the downstream business. They recruit externally for individuals with post-graduate qualifications, relevant professional experience, international exposure and, most importantly, leadership potential. The structured development plan also helps in getting up to speed on the breadth of different global business areas BP work in.

So here I am, working on BP’s strategic plan. I miss the camaraderie of the military, but professionally I haven’t looked back. Challenging, continual professional development has always been important to me, and without the MBA I certainly wouldn’t be enjoying the career that I am now.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.