Successful Women MBAs Talk Business

Successful Women MBAs Talk Business

In a bid to shake the stereotype that MBA programs are testosterone-fuelled, business schools have long admitted the need to attract more female candidates.


For women already juggling a family with a career, or those not interested in the traditional route in financial services or consultancy, there has always been a question mark over the need for an MBA qualification.

With the recession continuing to bite, the growing number of female applicants to MBA programs was expected to fall back but, the latest results from the TopMBA applicant survey show that it appears to have had the opposite effect with 41% of respondents being female – the highest figure to date.

Meanwhile, motivations for embarking on an MBA also seem to shifting. While many still wish to follow the tried and test route, 29% of female respondents now say they want to use their qualification to help them set up their own business. This is up from 25% last year.

The benefits that an MBA can offer candidates seeking to break into senior management or move sectors are widely documented but, unlike the cliché, not all entrepreneurs start in garages and not all MBAs are consultants, TopMBA Career Guide meets four women who have used their MBAs to achieve very different results.

Kate Webster – the career change

“You really do get out what you put into an MBA,” says Kate Webster, a corporate finance analyst for ANZ Bank in Australia.  “It’s a huge investment financially and time-wise but if you are prepared to make those investments you truly can open up a whole world of opportunities that may have been closed to you previously.”

Webster is certainly speaking from experience after using her MBA to make a major career change from working in healthcare recruitment to corporate finance. After training as a physiotherapist in the UK and spending four years working in public hospitals, she knew that she wanted more business-focus in her career but, at the point, not which direction to take.

After persuading UK recruitment consultant Reed Personnel to employ her to recruit physiotherapists, she spent nine years with the company in various roles, including opening an office in Canada and moving to Australia to assimilate a newly acquired business.

While she had already been advised to back up her management experience with a formal qualification, she was not motivated to start her MBA until her work integrating two businesses gave her a better insight to how business worked and how the board of her company thought. A desire to develop her skills in corporate finance and the finer details of running a business drove her to sign up to a part-time course at Melbourne Business School in 2005, and later to take part in an exchange program which took her to Stern School of Business in New York.

While Webster says she has learnt that you can achieve a career change if you are determined, it is important to be realistic when embarking on a MBA – particularly if you have a non-traditional background – as you may have to work harder than candidates with a business background. “I was starting from a baseline of zero in many subjects with respect to factual knowledge but never underestimate what you bring to the table.”

Fiona Dunster – to launch own business in heavily-male dominated sector

Australian construction consultant Fiona Dunster, who launched her own business two years ago, almost left her business plan collecting dust in a drawer until a series events prompted to throw caution to the wind and take a change.

She wrote her plan just after completing her MBA but, she says herself, through “lack of a ‘real’ need or impetus” she put her vision aside to continue in her role as executive manager for development at Cbus Property, a Superannuation Fund. She had joined the company during the first year of her three-part time MBA, and had found the two complimentary.

In 2007, when she had been with the company for six years, her chief executive sadly passed away, which Dunster says had a profound effect on her, and, several months later, when she was awarded the State and, ultimately, the National Crystal Vision Award (as selected by the National Association of Women in Construction) for advancing the interests of women, she found her impetus and FIDUN Pty Ltd was born.

While she says many successful and lucrative businesses are launched by innovative people with no formal training, she would advise anyone considering the move to embark on an MBA. “The networking benefits alone are worth the effort.  The most beneficial thing for me was the learning I gained through my interaction with my fellow MBA peers – this opened my eyes and mind to ideas and experiences I never would have been exposed to otherwise.”

Natalia Bragina – launching new businesses in developing markets

With a traditional background in commercial banking, it may not surprise many that Bragina decided to embark on a MBA but, since graduating, her career - which spans private equity, fresh pasta and corporate education - has been anything but conventional.

Prompted to start her MBA by the Russian economic crisis in 1998, Bragina says it made her realize she needed a “more profound and deep business education”.

She studied at the University of Michigan – now Ross School of Business – and had planned to stay on in the US, but due to a tough job market she accepted an associate role at a Russian private equity firm, which saw her deal in a variety of projects including launching a high-class Russian winery.

In 2005, she moved on to launching a fresh pasta company in Russia – which she says “just felt right at the time”. Not that it was an easy sell to the local market. She explains: “The preparation stage took me longer than I expected because of the very strict regulations of the food production industry. Negotiations with the retail chains were tough because shorter shelf life meant certain risks for them.”

Bragina has since sold her share in the business – she set it up with three partners – and is now business development director at a corporate education business, which both offers games-based solutions for companies and offers consultancy on training.


While she says that she could have developed her business skills and experience over time, her MBA allowed to achieve more, more quickly because of new insights and the invaluable network of contacts she made. “I am totally convinced that MBA can be a great asset for any type of career,” she adds.

Written by QS Blogger
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