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Doing Consulting Work While Earning My MBA

I’m two weeks into my third CSUF MBA semester, and this one is shaping up to be my most exciting and challenging yet.  The most exciting thing about this semester is that my classes are heavily exposing me to the business practices, techniques and tools I enrolled in the MBA program to learn.  And best of all, the courses will force me to apply my classroom education to actual business problems (which is something I’ve been looking forward too since before I enrolled).

I’ll be describing my courses in more detail throughout the semester, so this article will provide a brief overview of my first 2 weeks.  Based on the assignments I’ll be doing you can expect quite a bit of detail regarding the student consulting projects, so keep an eye out for those future posts.

Here a few initial thoughts about MGMT 540 – New Venture Leadership and Management:

  • The professor, Barbara Samara, has a lot of experience working in the private sector.  She worked for many years with IBM, and in certain capacities that had a very entrepreneurial flavor.  The coaches we are assigned for our consulting project (which I’ll talk about later) have extensive entrepreneurship backgrounds as well, and several of my classmates have started or managed their own businesses.  All this exposure to entrepreneurship will be great for learning the trials and tribulations of running one’s own business, and might even inspire me to start my own company!
  • In addition to the consulting projects, our assignments include case studies (which I’ve found are one of my favorite MBA classroom tools).  I love the spirited debates the students engage in, and it feels great to present a well-reasoned, astute point to the entire class.  These case studies will focus on leadership and entrepreneurship, which will differ from last semester’s focus on management and IT challenges.
  • Professor Samara recommends we watch Shark Tank each Friday night, which is perfect for me because I already make that my one show for regular weekly viewing.

Here are a few thoughts about my other course, MKTG 519 – Marketing Management:

  • Professor Kovacev has an interesting background.  He has a physics degree and worked in the defense industry most of his life.  He’s also been teaching for several decades, and has lots of experience preparing undergraduate and MBA students for careers in business.
  • I was nominated by the professor to be our consulting project team leader (I think it might have something to do with being the tallest member of our group; I stand out among everyone).  I don’t have any professional management experience, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of coordinating our project objectives with 9 other people and ensuring we complete a fantastic consulting assignment for our client.

Which brings me to the consulting projects.  I have one in each class, and I’m starting to realize how intense the assignments will be.  Orange County businesses can hire CSUF students as consultants to help them solve business problems they’re facing or explore new business opportunities.  Each project will take the whole semester to complete, and requires the groups to develop solutions they can pitch to their client at the end of the course.  The professors have stated some prior groups have done so well that they’ve received job offers from clients after completing the projects.  I’ve been selected as the leader for the MKTG 519 project, and we haven’t yet formed groups in MGMT 540.  No matter what happens though, I’m very excited to begin working on these consulting projects.  I’ve looked forward to putting my skills into practice ever since attending my initial CSUF MBA information session, and want to prove that I’m ready to start making a contribution to the world of private business.

So I’m definitely excited about this new semester, and a little nervous too about how challenging the workload will likely be.  But, the challenge will be good for me, and I will get exposure to ideas, tools, and strategies I don’t normally get to see while working my 9-5 job.  I know things will work out, but these next 16 weeks will probably be some of the longest and busiest of my life!  I’ll be keeping you informed on my progress throughout this crazy semester, and you’ll hopefully get an accurate first-hand account of CSUF’s MBA program.

Have you started MBA classes for the new fall semester?  How do you feel about them?  Or maybe you’re still considering whether to pursue an MBA?  What do you hope to learn by earning your degree?  Share your thoughts either in the comments section below or tweet me @orangecountymba.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

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3 Ways Reading Creates Effective Business Leaders

It’s that time of the year again: the air’s getting cooler, the nights are getting longer, and eager MBA students are starting another semester of business school.  And each new semester brings with it lots of MBA-related reading.  It can be easy to think that all that reading is tedious (for me, it takes away from watching football), but reading is an important part of MBA students’ development into future business leaders.  Don’t believe me?  Well I’ve got a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by my side for support.

John Coleman recently published “For Those Who Want to Lead, Read” on HBR.  For all its potential benefits, the article doesn’t paint a rosy picture about the current state of reading.  Coleman writes that despite nearly 84% global literacy, people are reading (what he calls) “less deeply”.  The average person’s daily reading might only consist of a few magazine or internet articles.  In fact, less than half of the U.S. adult American population reads deep, challenging literature.

Ok, that may seem slightly alarming to some people, but in the grand scheme of things why does this matter?  We have greater access to information than at any other time in human history.  Plus, people are busy; they don’t have time to read like they used to.  Surely this lack of reading can’t be all that bad.  We can find whatever we need on the internet and we’re filling that time we’d normally spend reading doing other activities, right?

According to Coleman, reading less (both in quantity and in quality) is something we should definitely worry about.  And MBA students in particular need to take note.  Coleman states that reading deeply about a variety of topics can help aspiring businessmen and women develop into tomorrow’s business leaders: “Deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and [that reading] can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.”  Just look at Steve Jobs, one of this past decade’s greatest innovators.  He loved the English poet William Blake’s work, despite it having nothing directly to do with Apple or iphones.

Deep, broad reading can be a magical experience.  Not hocus-pocus magic, but magical in the sense that it can positively affect MBA students’ development into business leaders.  But how, you might be asking, can reading possibly help make someone an effective business leader?  Well I’m glad you asked; here are three rewards MBA students can reap through broad, challenging reading:

1.      Emotional Intelligence.  Reading a variety of authors about a variety of human experiences can help improve aspiring leaders’ empathy.  This characteristic is especially important when managing employees.  Effective managers must understand their employees’ motivations, needs, dreams, and challenges.  And they must understand how to employ those factors in ways that motivate and inspire their employees.  That can only come about through well-developed emotional intelligence and empathy for other people.

2.      Problem Solving.  Reading helps solve complex problems.  In today’s world, more and more parts of our lives are interconnected.  Business problems grow larger and more complex as more data gets recorded and the world continues to shrink.  For that reason, MBA students need to possess knowledge on a variety of people, places, subjects and ideas in order to develop effective solutions for challenging, global business problems.

3.      Networking.  This may sound strange, but broad reading can help with business networking, too.  Being well-read allows you to engage others in a variety of conversations about a variety of topics and make genuine contributions to those conversations.  It gives you small talk ammunition, and it even provides gift ideas you can get for business clients and partners.

These are only a few ways reading helps MBA students develop into effective leaders.  My second year in CSUF Mihaylo’s MBA program starts on Monday, and I know I’ll have lots of reading to do.  But I’ll continue to try and supplement my business reading with broad reading on other topics, in order to help myself develop into the best possible business leader I can be.

Need some inspiration for broad reading material?  Check out one of my favorite non-business books below:

What are your favorite non-business books?  Share your favorites in the comments section below or on Twitter @OrangeCountyMBA.  I’m always looking to add more reading material to my bookshelf!

Learning Leadership in the Face of Rising Tuition

A recent comment on Orange County MBA brought to light the challenges prospective MBA students face trying to apply and enroll at CSUF.  Matias shared a recent experience from the Mihaylo MBA Prospective Student Information Session, and had learned there that CSUF won’t be accepting new MBA applicants for Spring 2013 due to California’s budget constraints.  The sad part is that this is only the tip of the iceberg.  The outlook for prospective MBAs won’t be improving anytime soon.

Increasing tuition is nothing new, but in recent years certain state university systems have imposed greater tuition increases than others.  California is one of the worst examples.  The average tuition increase for in-state students around the country was 8% last year.  Compare that to California’s increase of over 20% for that same period.  And public tuition has been increasing at a faster rate than private tuition.  Granted, the average private university tuition still exceeds the average public university tuition ($24,000 vs. $8,000 per year on average), still arguably making the public degree an excellent value.  But that may not last for long; California public tuition nearly doubled over the last 5 years!  At that rate, it won’t be long before public and private educations are similar in price!

CSUF faces its own budget challenges.  Tuition could increase again next year, and it all depends on whether Governor Brown’s November tax initiative is approved.  If the tax initiative is not approved, students will face an additional 10% tuition increase for Spring 2013.  The increase will help cover a budget shortfall estimated to be between $250 to $375 million.  The shortfall may force the university to slash salaries and benefits, reduce enrollments, and eliminate jobs.  Since 2007-08, California budget deficits have cost the CSU system approximately $1 billion in budget funding.

Here’s the major problem, and it was highlighted in Matias’ comment.  CSUF announced at the Information Session that it would not be accepting applications for Spring 2013.  Now folks either have trouble getting into CSUF, or once accepted they face the risk of paying ever-increasing tuition.  The CSU system administrators aren’t showing they feel their students’ pain, which only worsens the situation.  Just recently, the Board of Trustees approved pay raises for 3 university presidents.  The initiative raised salaries by as much as 10%, and were approved on top of the car and home allowances the administrators are already receiving.  CSU administrators say the raises come from funding sources separate from the universities’ operating budgets.  And that’s where the problem lies – these actions (whether warranted or not) send mixed messages to students.

How are students and prospective applicants going to believe CSU administrators when they say they “feel their pain” and “have their best interests at heart?”  The pay raises and tuition increases don’t seem to be affecting those administrators.  Now it may be true that the money for the raises came from sources outside the CSU system operating budget, meaning it couldn’t be spent on services or tuition reduction anyways.  But that’s beside the point – it’s sending a mixed message.  Students see their tuition increasing and the universities’ services diminish.  They need someone to blame, and who better to blame than the mixed-message administrators receiving pay raises while cutting enrollment and increasing student fees?

Despite this heated situation, this mixed-message issue can serve as a lesson for MBA students.  Leaders need to lead, and leading often requires sacrifice.  Students are sacrificing their finances; prospective students are sacrificing their education plans.  Administrators need to demonstrate that same level of sacrifice.  Some of the firms that survived the recent economic downturn had executives who cut their own pay and curtailed their perks in order to save employees’ jobs.  I’m not saying leadership is easy, and I’m not saying I have all the answers for this education challenge.  But times are difficult, and leaders need to demonstrate they are fighting for their employees (or students) while keeping those peoples’ best interests at heart.  The solutions to the CSU system’s budget woes won’t appear overnight.  So maybe the politicians and administrators should toss these challenges to the MBA students at these universities.  Maybe the students can offer some solutions the administrators hadn’t even considered, while learning lessons about the challenges of leadership in the process.