The MBA Experience is More than just Academic Learning
An Interview with John Bishop, Wharton MBA
Associate Investment Banking Division Salomon Smith Barney / Citigroup, New York and Hong Kong offices
How has your MBA helped your career?
From a very tangible standpoint, my MBA gave me the recruiting opportunity to jump into my next career — as an associate with a bulge bracket investment bank. It would have been very difficult to make this career change without the Wharton MBA. Many companies simply do not hire individuals who do not have MBAs from top schools — or if they do it is an exception to the rule. What’s more, individuals with MBAs tend to have an accelerated career path within organizations that recognize its value.
From a less tangible standpoint, through my MBA experience I have built an extensive network of friends and colleagues that work in different industries and locations. I hope to draw upon this network if I ever find myself changing careers again — as well as to better serve me as an investment banker (many friends work for clients, competitors and other financial services organizations). In addition, I have been exposed to a wealth of professors, administrators and alumni with which I can share experiences and opportunities during my career. Lastly, I feel that my MBA experience has provided me with the tools, exposure, and the confidence that will allow me to be successful in most business situations. For these reasons, I can say that not only has the MBA helped my career to date, but will continue to help my career into the future.
Looking back, was the MBA worth the time and money invested?
Getting an MBA at Wharton was one of the best personal and professional decisions I have made. As I have only recently graduated from Wharton (May 2002), it is difficult to say whether the MBA was a good investment from a monetary standpoint. After all, if you factor in the opportunity costs, my MBA was nearly a $250,000 investment. Although my salary is now more than double what I received prior to my MBA, I have invested two years and an additional $120,000. As such, I have yet to see if the MBA will pay off monetarily (although current outlook is good).
I believe that the networks I have developed and the education I have received will be essential to my personal and professional success. Moreover, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my career, with the input of friends and colleagues, and evaluate career direction and how I plan to achieve my career goals. I am comfortable that I have the ability and the knowledge to achieve those goals — and the resources with which I can draw upon to make those goals a reality. I don’t believe there is a way to put a price on that type of thing, but I’d have to believe it would be worth at least my MBA investment.
Would you actively recruit graduates in you company?
My company already actively recruits individuals from top MBA programs, and is convinced of the value provided by an MBA. I agree with their philosophy and actively participate in these efforts, both at the Wharton school and with general MBA recruiting. In addition, I provide advice for junior members of our firm who are considering going back for an MBA.
What advice would you give to our readers who are considering getting an MBA?
While an MBA is not a requirement for a successful career in business, it is a very enriching education that will likely open many doors to your career. Certain individuals, such as those that are focused on a specific career path, may not benefit from the 12-24 month break that is required by the MBA, but most young professionals who may not be convinced they have found their life-long vocation will benefit from the wealth of opportunities provided by the degree.
The MBA experience is more that just academic learning. It expands both personal and professional networks, gives one a chance to reflect on his/her career to date, and provides the opportunity to test management theories and skills in a relatively risk-free environment. As such, there are certain benefits to going back full time, although this may not always be an option for everyone.
Lastly, when applying, focus on deciding which school is the best for you and preparing your “story” for essays and interviews. Many students put a large focus on the GMAT, but by and large the most important thing is to convince admissions personnel that you are a good fit at their school and an individual from which their academic environment benefit and to which their school can provide a boost for a successful career.
Could you please tell us a few words about your background?
I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. After working briefly as a design engineer with Motorola, I realized that design engineering did not suit me as well as I had thought. I was much more interested in the operations side of the business, as well as providing input into the strategic direction of the firm.
As such, I obtained a job with Deloitte Consulting. It was with Deloitte that I had my first chance to work with professionals that had received their MBA. I enjoyed many aspects of the job, including learning about how different businesses worked, how they made money, and what did or did not make them successful. In addition, I was impressed by the thought processes and analyses contributed by other members of our teams (most of which had MBAs). It was through interaction with these individuals that convinced me of the value of an MBA.
I received some terrific experience with Deloitte and was able to work with managers all over Europe and North and South America. Eventually I worked my way into merger integration consulting, helping clients with one of their most complex challenges — integrating two companies after a merger. Still, despite the great experience I was receiving, I felt that an MBA was still essential to my career development, and would offer further opportunities to learn about business theories, finance, and general management.
Deloitte was extremely supportive of my return to business school and after two years with the company I conducted an exhaustive search to determine which school was right for me. Wharton was one of two schools I thought would fit well with my MBA goals — excellent academic learning, great reputation in the business community, the opportunity to develop personal and professional networks, and the environment which would nurture my leadership skills inside and outside the classroom. Upon acceptance, I left for Philadelphia and my MBA experience.