Mind and Hand: A reflection on MIT’s Executive MBA Program

Mission Accomplished

My father was a Strategy professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, one of the top MBA programs in the nation. In high school I would read books from his bookshelf like “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance” by Lou Gerstner, about the turnaround of IBM, and “Liar’s Poker” by Michael Lewis, about Wall Street excess. I always knew I wanted to get an MBA, but after starting my career, getting married, and having children, the timing never seemed quite right.

Fast forward 10 years, and I realized part of the reason I hadn’t applied to programs was that I was afraid of not getting in. In a lightning-strike moment, I realized that when I was 80, not getting an MBA was something I would regret. I needed to at least apply. I discovered that MIT was accepting applications for another 4 weeks, and I got to work gathering transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation, and writing vulnerable and honest essays about my ambitions.

Accepted

I was thrilled when Beth Chartier called to tell me I had been accepted. It was early evening and I was on my bicycle, a block away from work, when I stopped at the corner of Boylston St and Fairfield St to take the call. The smile stayed on my face the entire ride home.

You see, I don’t know that I would have or should have been admitted to a program 2 years out of undergrad. I was immature, naiive, and not making a meaningful impact at work or in the world around me. But in the subsequent years my perspective, decision making, empathy, and impact grew a lot.

Funding

The program cost $175,000. It’s common for companies to pay for part of Executive MBA programs, so I asked Accenture to support me. I pitched to my Level +2 boss, I proposed a broader continuing education program, I researched policies and precedence. In the end, Accenture offered to pay $5,000/yr and cover some of my time off. I searched for funding elsewhere in the organization but came up dry.

In the end, I paid my own way. I was disappointed in my employer and had hoped for more support after over a decade of loyal, hard work.

The question going through my mind was “will this pay off? Is this a good idea?” I ran a number of simulations based on potential raises and payback periods, and concluded that even in the worst case scenario, I would break even by the end of my career. The spreadsheets didn’t stop me from returning to that question time and time again.

The Program

I took 26 courses in my 20 months at MIT, including some which were half-length electives. The professors were excellent – well published, passionate teachers, and credible. There were only 3-4 who I felt were weak teachers. All in all, the quality the teaching met or exceeded my expectations.

This section deserves a lot of thought and effort, and as I’m writing this it’s 10pm on a Friday night and I have COVID which I contracted at MIT’s make-up commencement. I hope to write up more about the coursework later.

The program director is Jo Hising DiFabio, and she’s supported by a strong team. There was good communication about dates, timing, meals, courses, COVID-19 impacts, etc. I felt that things were generally well organized, which is important when you’re juggling a full-time job on top of a heavy school load, and then a global pandemic hits.

One wish – it would have been nice if professors used Canvas in similar ways, or if the program team organized the list of reading and written assignments into a holistic to-do list for the core classes. It was tedious and administrative for the students to have to do that.

Was it Worth It?

Absolutely. I love learning, and even though the program was fast-paced, much of the learning stuck with me. System Dynamics was by far my favorite course. Check out Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows for a quick primer.

I should also mention that when I graduated I got a job at my dream company, Google. I’ve admired and studied Google for over a decade. I had interviewed twice before. Now I’m in a role that suits me well and am able to be a part of Google’s growth trajectory in the cloud business. How did I get the position? Networking with a classmate at Google and preparing extensively for the interviews. It was a direct outcome of my choice to go to MIT.

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