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Forté Forum Reveals the MBA Value Proposition

As a panelist at a recent Forté Forum event, Tara Whitehead told the audience of 20-something young women, “My MBA completely changed my life and my career path.” Whitehead is VP of Communications Sector, Global Industries, EDS, having earned her MBA at Goizueta Business School at Emory University in 1993. If any member of the audience had come with any doubts about what the value of an MBA truly was, she left completely convinced that it was the most sensible career move a woman could make.

What is the true value of an MBA degree?

Of course one can figure out its economic value by adding lost opportunity costs and tuition, room and board for two years and subtracting that total from the post-MBA salary over the projected career horizon. But that dollar figure doesn’t begin to capture the value of the degree in terms of quality of life and career. Panelists and attendees at this year’s Forté Forums explored some of the many ways that the MBA adds value.

It Clarifies Your Goals

Working in marketing and PR at the Boston Chamber of Commerce back in 1990, Whitehead liked her job, but didn’t see a whole lot of places to go from there. “Some people had worked in the same jobs for 20 years,” she said, illustrating the lack of upward mobility. “I didn’t want to do that, and I knew I would eventually go back to school, but I wanted to go back at the right time and with the right goal.”

The search for the right goal is what drew many young women to the Forté Forums, held throughout the United States every year. The deliberate search for career direction is a big motivator. For instance, it was during her junior year that Rachel Bidegain, a biology major, realized she didn’t want to do research. “I decided to pick up a business minor,” she said, “so I’d have something to fall back on.”

It was finally through Forté, though, that she realized business wasn’t just a fall-back. “Forté opened my eyes up to see how valuable the MBA is. Biotech is huge right now, and with my background in biology, I’ll have a real advantage. I didn’t realize it before.” Bidegain is planning on going into marketing for a bio-tech firm and then returning to graduate school after getting three to five years’ experience under her belt. “I’d love to be the CEO of a pharmaceutical company,” she said.

It Expands Your Options

“Getting the MBA is about opening new channels and options,” said Helen Lee, Director at Alvarez and Marsal and a Harvard MBA 2000. Lee served on a Forté Forum panel in Paris. “The common tendency is that the further one advances in her career, the more she becomes specialized and the narrower the focus of expertise.” The MBA, said Lee, provides the option to change functions, industries, and career paths.

“For me, the most encouraging point made by the panelists was to think of an MBA as a long-term investment in yourself because it furthers your career in whatever direction you want to take it,” said Nikki Singh, who attended the Forum in New York City.

“My career is a perfect example of how the MBA opens up new worlds of opportunity,” said Regan Ebert, vice president of marketing for Frito-Lay and a 1992 McCombs MBA. Ebert told Forté Forum participants that after pursuing a career in public accounting, she quickly realized it wasn’t for her. “Going back to business school gave me the opportunity to make the career switch into marketing, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

It Builds Networks That Make the World Go Around

“The glass ceiling definitely exists if you don’t have connections,” believes Whitehead. “Business school is a great way to meet people and build relationships that will serve you well throughout your career.” After graduate school, Whitehead worked for the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands in a much-coveted overseas assignment: “I met him at business school,” she said. “There’s no way I would have met that man anywhere else.”

Lee, who was interested in relocating to Paris after MBA school, found her Harvard Business School network to be one of the most helpful in continuing her financial career in an international environment. “The network—of friends, professors, specialists in various fields, alumni, and fellow students in all fields and sectors—is incredibly beneficial.”

It Boosts Your Self-Confidence

The MBA is a real self-confidence booster. “Let’s face it,” said Whitehead frankly. “The business world has changed a lot in the last few decades, but it’s still male-dominated.” But when you have your MBA and you know you earned it and you’re confident in your skills, it shows. “There’s no way I’d be where I am today without it.”

Whitehead was promoted four times in eight years during her tenure at IBM, an unheard-of accomplishment in that company. “I got promoted extremely quickly,” she said, “and a lot of it was leveraging my MBA—being able to walk into an environment and know how to deal with a multicultural group of people, for instance.”

Focus, potential, connections, and self-esteem—the true values of the MBA degree turn out to be exactly the ingredients for a lifetime of success, both professionally and personally.

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