An MBA is a Master of Business Administration. If this suggests simply learning how to keep the machinery of a business ticking over, then think again. In reality it is so much more.
An MBA is about becoming an excellent manager and a shrewd business strategist, so that the companies you work for have the greatest chance of success. MBAs are for people who already have some experience of business, generally as an employee but perhaps also as an entrepreneur or a consultant. They may choose to do an MBA because they want to enhance their skills and knowledge with an eye to promotion or a shift in career. This might be a change from a specific function within a company to a more general management position, or a move to a new employer. MBAs can also pave the way for a more dramatic change, from employee to entrepreneur, and help the founders of new companies get the skills to take their enterprises to the next level.
MBAs come in several forms. There are full-time programmes for people with the freedom and resources to take a break from work in order to study for a whole year. Then there are executive MBAs, including part-time modules, which you can follow in parallel with your work. This means setting aside time in the evenings and weekends for independent study, with regular attendance on campus and other activities organised by the school. At Vlerick, for example, the executive MBA lasts 18 months, with participants attending the school's Brussels or Ghent campuses for two days every three weeks. Over the course of the programme there are also residential seminars and opportunities to travel abroad, to see how business is done elsewhere and to investigate specific sectors of the economy.
For a more senior audience, Global MBAs target professionals in positions of influence and strategic impact; shaping them to become impactful leaders in a fast changing business world. Vlerick places a lot of value on the importance of moulding such change-makers in a global environment, thus the Global Executive MBA is offered globally in 5 different countries and 3 continents to enable participants to attain an international and strategic mindset.
Finally, there are MBA programmes that take advantage of digital technologies to make study even more flexible. This might mean a combination of distance learning and study on campus, or a programme that is entirely digital, such as Vlerick's online MBA. This provides the same rigour, structure and quality as the school's other MBA programmes, including a high level of interaction with teaching faculty, but with a rhythm that suits you.
Whatever format you choose, it is important to realise that an MBA is not a passive form of education. The key to a successful MBA is engagement. There will be new knowledge to take on board, if you have not already acquired it in your professional life. For example, you will cover the fundamentals of business, from finance and accounting, to general management and marketing. These skills should not be under-estimated: learning how to read the nuances in a company's balance sheet can reveal a great deal about its business.
Then there are quickly moving areas such as e-commerce, digital marketing and big data that increasingly drive modern business. This requires some new knowledge, but more importantly an agile and responsive way of thinking about business. Innovation is no longer managed in a leisurely, linear way, but by testing and refining ideas in the market place.
In order to appreciate these challenges, MBA programmes put a premium on examining real life situations. So while there will be conventional lectures and seminars, you will also be sent out to visit companies and meet entrepreneurs who are dealing with the challenges of business on a daily basis. Most important of all in this context is group work, for example examining case studies or solving business problems drawn from real life. This highlights another important aspect of the MBA experience: you learn not only from your teachers, but also from your fellow participants.
Remember that MBAs are for people who already have some business experience, and so each group can draw on considerable resources of knowledge simply from within itself. This knowledge will cross different business sectors and, in an international school like Vlerick, it will include experience from different markets and business cultures around the world. Your colleagues on the programme, as well as your teachers and mentors, are the basis of a new network that you take with you into your professional life.
The best MBAs also make increasing use of innovative learning techniques which help develop team-working, decision-making and leadership skills. These attributes, which cannot be taught in a traditional sense, can be learned through activities that develop the potential that lies within each individual. Such activities might include business games or techniques such as improvisation, which give people the opportunity to experience how group dynamics work and learn the best ways to steer them in a desired direction. Applied to the workplace, these approaches allow a manager to take a team with them.
An MBA can also be a laboratory for developing new ideas, where you can nurture projects for your existing employer or think ahead to a business you would like to create in the future. Before you know it, you too will be a case study in success for future MBA programmes.