Business schools often like to emphasize that an MBA degree isn’t just about gaining a globally recognized qualification. You might find that, in addition to direct program benefits, they will also talk about the value of joining a community in which you’ll find like-minded peers and an environment that constantly challenges you to continue learning – about business and about yourself.
Two graduates of the Stanford MBA class of 2016 are now running a blog which serves to illustrate these very facets of the MBA experience. “We felt there was no medium that provided such a diverse perspective on business and life as life on campus did,” says Daniel (Dan) Kob, who started rocketMBA with classmate, Alex Martinian. Together, they now take time out of their regular post-MBA jobs to keep the site furnished with some of the latest business ideas and approaches to professional life that they encounter.
“I am a big fan of Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, and they both stress the importance of lifelong learning and being a ‘compounding machine’ of knowledge,” explains Alex, whose post-MBA role sees him working as an analyst researching stocks in Los Angeles, the city in which he grew up. “If they are still learning when they are in their 80s and 90s, then I better still be learning too,” he adds.
“Knowledge seems to be the best investment out there,” agrees Dan, who hails from Germany. Dan was chief of staff to the executive board of Europe’s largest magazine publisher before his MBA and is now entrepreneur in residence with media company, Bertelsmann, in the US. “Beyond that,” he adds, “I just love meeting new people and learning from them. Going to bed a little smarter and with a slight change in perspective every day is what keeps me going.”
Thoughts such as these underlie rocketMBA’s posts, interviews and reflections and seem to confirm just how much Dan and Alex took from their time at business school – and what they want to continue taking from their experience on campus.
In the below, these two Stanford MBA graduates discuss the impact the program has had on them, their thoughts on the MBA degree’s return on investment (ROI) and some of the more unorthodox places from which business lessons can be extracted.
How did you find the MBA experience on the whole? What kind of impact has it had on your outlook, be that in the professional or personal sense?
Dan: I had high expectations about what I would learn during these two years, but I got so much more out of it. All the basics were great – I got a better understanding of accounting, finance, marketing and such, but looking back that’s not what made this experience special.
My two professional reasons for choosing Stanford GSB were the school’s extensive selection of courses in leadership, communication and coaching on the one hand, and entrepreneurship and innovation on the other. I learned so much that will be valuable for my career that I wouldn’t have gotten out of just reading a textbook.
Personally, my time at the GSB was highly introspective. I got a much better sense of who I am, what my goals are and what environments I need to be in to be happy and successful. The GSB was such an environment. Being surrounded by 400+ classmates who are not only smart and driven but also humble and open was the best part of the experience. I made friends for life and got so many new perspectives on the world that I would not want to have missed.
Alex: On a personal level, the Stanford MBA taught me how to understand other people and myself better because the school stresses interpersonal learning and feedback. I also really enjoyed traditional business classes, such as Jack McDonald’s legendary investment seminar, and courses in organizational behavior taught by Carole Robin and Ed Batista, who are both incredible professors.
Professionally, it exposed me to a much broader international perspective. During the MBA I had the opportunity to visit Japan, Macau, Hong Kong, China and Singapore on study trips led by classmates who were from the region. I was able to see the countries in a way I would not have on my own. We also met local business leaders in each of the countries, helping me begin to appreciate the cultural similarities and differences between doing business in the United States and Asia.
Among the faculty and alumni interviews on rocketMBA is one with a performing artist and magician. What do you think the budding MBA can learn from a magician?
Alex: Jackson Ridd, the artist we interviewed, does a fantastic job highlighting how the skills a magician uses to perform can be applied to business presentations as well. We thought it was a unique angle to explore.
What was the most unexpected source of a business lesson you encountered during your MBA?
Dan: I took a few classes in other Stanford departments mostly to mix it up but found some of those courses to be great sources of business lessons. For example, I took a beginner’s class in acting in the theater department where we spent most of the time exploring the impact of body language, posture and voice on how others perceive your relative status and power. I have also taken a meditation class that taught me how to be more mindful and calm in high-stress situations.
Alex: Michael Mauboussin, an excellent professor at Columbia Business School, stresses the importance of multidisciplinary learning - the idea that knowledge from diverse disciplines can be applied to business and investing. Charlie Munger has talked about a similar idea with his concept of ‘mental models’. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to me that some of the most creative solutions to business problems may come from other fields.
A lot of applicants will weigh up the potential return on investment (ROI) the MBA degree can offer them. Did your MBA fulfill (or, is it fulfilling) your expectations in this regard?
Alex: It is certainly an incredibly large financial investment, and it is up to each person to decide whether or not it is worth it. I will say that if you choose to pursue an MBA, being very clear on what your goals are is essential. For me, my three goals were to, 1. Build leadership skills; 2. Develop a more international perspective and; 3. Make friendships with people from around the world. I think the Stanford MBA helped me achieve all three goals, and I do believe the ROI was very high for me. I would certainly do it again if I had the opportunity.
Dan: Being intentional about why specifically you want to do an MBA is certainly good advice. Concerning the ROI, there are two viewpoints you can take: One is the direct financial return as a function of the degree, where you have to weigh up the cost of attendance and the opportunity cost with the direct increase in salary over the years. The second one is the return in joy you get out of spending two years in an incredible environment, developing a whole new perspective and meeting some of the most brilliant people you will ever meet. While this second viewpoint led my decision, my ROI is definitely positive in both dimensions.