Business professionals who started their career in a non-business field often find out that they have an advantage. They can apply strategies and approaches from other industries just as successfully in their managerial positions. Access MBA interviewed three international MBA alumni who graduated in Canada and asked them what doing business with a non-traditional background feels like.
Here’s what Amanda, Srivatsan, and Bianca revealed.
How do you learn business outside of business?
Learning from the Navy
Amanda Belanger, who recently started her ninth year at IBM, is also a veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy. During her time as а surface warfare officer, following an established process became essential for her work, as she learned to “give and receive critical time-sensitive information and make decisions.”
For Amanda, an EMBA alumna of Telfer School of Management (Canada), process and procedure are paramount on the civilian side, too, and especially in consulting. In her words, they shouldn’t be overlooked even when things are going well.
“Process and procedure, when done right, enable faster and better decision making especially during times of crisis or extreme pressure.”
Learning from technology
Srivatsan Vijayakumar graduated with an MBA from Schulich School of Business (Canada), but his prior experience and education are in engineering. As a professional who has seen both worlds from the inside, he knows how they overlap.
“Engineering is really methodical; it’s driven by data and information. From a corporate perspective, that is foundational as well,” says Srivatsan, currently a senior manager at KPMG. “Sometimes we have too much information, so how do you slice into that noise and put the emphasis on the information that is required?”
Learning from sustainability
Bianca Hersh, Part-time MBA class of 2018 at UBC Sauder School of Business (Canada), is a passionate environmental consultant. It turned out that “the blend of business and science education has been invaluable” for her current role at TELUS.
As Bianca navigates the company’s corporate sustainability and environment strategy, she uses her unique background to drive interdisciplinary programmes forward. She believes these topics have an important place in all aspects of business nowadays.
“I always tried to bring sustainability into the conversation. Business school was an opportunity to explore how sustainability itself can drive corporate objectives.”
Embrace the challenges
Interdisciplinary work is incredibly rewarding, but it goes hand in hand with a variety of challenges. Thanks to their tenacity and hard work during their studies, MBA professionals learn to embrace most difficulties that come up on the job.
How do they do that?
Seeing the big picture
The diverse backgrounds of interdisciplinary leaders enable them to better understand the goals and challenges in other parts of the organisation. This big-picture mindset is essential for anyone who wants to excel in a management role and achieve results.
“A big part of my job is interacting with other teams and defining stakeholder interests, often in business areas that I have little experience,” Bianca Hersh explains. She points out the value of her studies: “The MBA gave me a well-rounded business education that allows me to have at least a high-level understanding of what my colleagues in other departments value and work on.”
Considering different solutions
Professionals with experience in various roles and industries can clearly see how they overlap. However, they also recognise how these industries differ. Srivatsan Vijayakumar, who has mastered the art of working with data in business, revealed what he finds most challenging:
“In engineering there is always one solution to a problem, whereas in consulting there are many solutions. The MBA helps in that regard. A recommendation that you offer today may be different a year from now because of the complexity of the environment.”
Learn from the MBAs
“Volunteer for leadership opportunities as they come to you,” Srivatsan urges fellow MBA aspirants. Indeed, learning by doing is a preferred study method for many. Business school provides a safe space to experiment and get to know the responsibilities in dynamic business environments without taking too big a risk.
“If you fail at something in the MBA programme, it’s not a big deal, but if you fail in the corporate environment, there might be implications,” he adds. “Be in a less comfortable position to learn from your mistakes.” Srivatsan goes on to say that case analysis is the best way to learn for someone with a non-traditional background.
Pursuing a business career with a non-traditional background might seem counterproductive to some, but Amanda encourages aspirants to stick to their goals. Believe in yourself and find supporters who believe in your dream too, she advises.
“As someone who did not think they belonged in an Executive MBA programme based on my educational background and number of years of experience, I know today that I made the right decision for me because of the amazing support from an alumnus and my family,” Amanda says.
She also emphasises the value of a rich, interdisciplinary background – both for your future career and for your business school experience: “A consulting career that spanned geographies, service lines, industries, and roles served me exceptionally well, enabling me to contribute in the classroom in a meaningful way.”