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Rapid MBA Career Progression, 5 Years On

A Desautels MBA proves a worthy career investment for engineer Vlad Miladinovic

Five years on from his McGill Desautels MBA, electrical engineer, Vlad Miladinovic, reflects on various aspects of the qualification that have been essential in propelling his MBA career forward.

In this interview, Miladinovic covers the benefits of mentorship and the MBA internship in preparing him for more senior roles – and ultimately, the launch of his own consulting business last year.  

Vlad Miladinovic, Desautels MBA, shares his career trajectory five years after graduation
You completed your MBA 5 years ago. Could you tell me a little bit about your MBA career progression since then?

My post-MBA career trajectory really started in year one – with my internship. I was fortunate to be paired with a very good mentor who not only offered me the internship but then kept me on contract through year two and after graduation, offered me a mid-management position in business development. After a year, I was promoted to director of the company’s industrial division, an executive role managing about 35% of the company. Now, I run my own consulting business for companies in industrial sectors.

Before undertaking your MBA in Montreal in 2009, you had held a number of engineering roles internationally and were qualified to master’s level. Why did you feel it was time for an MBA?

Engineering is a good profession which rewards specialization over time. Even engineers who are not very strong in a specific technical niche end up strong in something like project management. I discovered very early that I enjoyed being a generalist and having the opportunity to work in different industries and roles. The only formal training that allows for such a career is the MBA, not to mention that it is also an internationally recognized degree. It was a no-brainer.

How did the degree prepare you for your subsequent career progression?

Almost everything I learned in the program was complementary to my previous knowledge and useful. It was an eye opener. I would not say that I would never have got to the same point in my career without an MBA but it would, at best, happen 10 years later and I would not be nearly as effective in my career progression.

I recently departed my previous company to start my own consulting business focused on commercial strategy and management in industrial sectors. I would say my trajectory was fairly typical for an engineer/MBA with the exception of the most recent step.

So your post-MBA career progression culminated in you starting your own business. How has the MBA prepared you for this particular move?

Having diverse business experience is more important for starting a business than having any specific degree. However, I would not have been able to gain that experience without an MBA so it was certainly important. One aspect of MBA experience that was crucial for me, and that helped me a lot as an entrepreneur, is humility. Being surrounded with brilliant and well-rounded people deflated my ego and taught me to listen and learn continuously.

Before undertaking your Desautels MBA, did you have the notion that you wanted to run your own business one day?

Absolutely, but I did not think that the MBA was a crucial step towards my own business. That was an underestimation, of course, but at the time it was not an important factor in my decision. It should have been.

What expectations of the program did you have? What did you hope to gain to benefit your career or aspirations at the time?

I had high expectations in terms of academic quality and little else. McGill blew all my expectations out of the water and so did my fellow classmates. I had no idea. In terms of the benefits, my hope was that I would be able to chart my own career and possibly switch it completely. I ended up not being a 100% career switcher as I still ended up in the industrial sector but the role was different from what I’d done before. The money was not my motivator honestly, though seeing that tuition was lower back then and we were entering a recession, it may have had some impact.

Are you noticing any trends or gaps in the market that are opening up more opportunities for engineers in business?

Strategic management is fundamentally identical to engineering in its approach to solving problems, which is why engineers typically do well in post-MBA careers. I think this has been amplified in recent years because trends in business intelligence, big data, investing, etc. favor the numerical and analytical skillsets that engineers inherently have.

Why did you study at McGill Desautels?

The Desautels MBA had the smallest class size I could find in an academically rigorous school. And let’s face it, nothing beats Montreal’s student lifestyle. I have no idea how we actually found time to do all that work. I never slept that little in my life.

Why did you opt for a concentration in strategic management?

This was the only path towards a generalist profile I was aiming for. I also made sure to take as many marketing courses as possible. Also, I was looking for practical courses with hands-on examples and you cannot find many of those in, say, finance, so strategy was appealing.

How would you say the program’s courses have helped you thus far?

Everything I learned was useful and I used almost everything I learned. It was fantastic. I could claim that I intentionally picked all the right courses which helped me in the end but, in reality, I got lucky and cheated a bit because I was already working for my future employer mid-MBA. The mix of courses I took ended up matching my future roles perfectly. The top skill I gained, I would say, was strategic analysis which has been essential for being able to perform effectively, both in my previous roles and as a consultant.

Would you say you gained any soft skills from your MBA? If so, which one(s)?

Listening and humility, in that order – I was fairly weak in both before I got there. People say humility is not a skill but it is so important that I consider it to be one.

Were there any experiences from your MBA that surprised you or that you didn’t expect?

Good question. The most important one was learning how to work effectively with different cultures. I had no idea how little I knew, despite having studied in Atlantic Canada, as well as my native Serbia, before continuing my studies in Canada. Another thing that surprised me was my interest in investments. Though I was not interested in working in finance, I saw how very important it was to understand how different businesses create value and progress. Lastly, while I of course expected to make friends, I never truly foresaw how interesting and well-rounded my classmates would be. And unique – you do not meet characters like that every day.

What advice would you give other MBA candidates who have their eyes set on running their own business one day?

You can tailor your MBA course profile, so having at least a vague idea of what you are interested in would go a long way in preparing yourself for owning a business. Even better – avoid what you are definitely not interested in. The most useful courses you can take will be advanced negotiations and marketing since you will be doing those two 80% of the time as a business owner.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?  

I hope a lot less will change in my life in this next five-year cycle. I see myself with a reasonably successful company with happy long-term clients and a motivated team of youngsters who share my values and passion for life. Most importantly, I see myself having the ability to balance my responsibilities and being the best husband and father that I can. Raising children is a lot more difficult and rewarding than structuring sales channels.

Visnja is a content specialist with a background in marketing and communications. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia and a master's in publishing from Simon Fraser University. Her interests include media & technology, personal growth, health & wellness, and innovation, topics that stay top of mind in her writing.

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