Why MBAs Are Just What Silicon Valley Needs

Tuck '97 MBA and comedian Paul Ollinger

Tuck ’97 MBA and comedian Paul Ollinger

Unfortunately, my “shock and awe” interviewing strategy backfired.

“Whatever, old man. Your MBA is irrelevant,” she said, knocking me back on my 38-year-old heels.

“Here at Facebook, we care less about fancy degrees and more about your vision for the connected future,” she continued. “What do you think of the platform we just launched?” (again, this was in 2007)

I honestly didn’t know what a platform was, but I think I covered it up pretty well, replying humbly yet confidently, “We didn’t study platforms at business school. Are they like frameworks?”

If you’ve never seen a millennial roll her eyes at the cataclysm of your middle-aged ignorance, you’re really missing out.

And what of my self-worth?

Regardless of what Sandberg says, getting my MBA was a great career move.

Follow this logic – if me earning a graduate business degree was a waste of time and money, then it was also a mistake for me to tattoo “Paul Ollinger, MBA” on my calf. And that is clearly not the case.

Because having an MBA did more than just prop up my fragile little ego. It also provided me practical business skills that helped me stand out among my sales colleagues at Facebook, and Yahoo! before that. Granted, if you’re looking for Mensa members in Silicon Valley, you probably wouldn’t start your search with the media sales teams. Nevertheless, check out how my MBA chart-making skills helped me visualize a strategy to optimize my sales efforts:

See what I mean? There are no shortcuts. To learn this kind of skill, you have to spend either two years at a top business school or several hours on Lynda.com.

Then there’s the language. Business school filled my vocabularic well with gems from the MBA lexicon. I now demonstrate fluency in business phrases like “synergistic,” “zero sum,” and “sunk cost.” I speak in TLA’s (three-letter acronyms) like IRR, ROI and NPV.

I know FIFO, the First In, First Out system of inventory management. And while I’ve never used it in a business scenario, it’s a dynamite theory for managing the dairy products in our refrigerator. (Me: “Honey, we have to use FIFO to minimize milk waste.” My wife: “Please shut up.”)

Speaking of dairy, because I’m an MBA, I don’t call my lactose-intolerance a ‘problem.’ I label it a ‘marital externality,’ and then I work with my familial stakeholders to minimize suboptimal air quality.

Oh sure there was some frivolous stuff about the MBA experience, like meeting incredible people from all over the world. There was working harder than I had ever worked just to keep up with these über-ambitious ass-kickers who opened my mind and raised my standards. And there was digging deep into the core disciplines of business in a way for which one doesn’t have the luxury during an eighty-hour/week career.

I understand that these might sound like trivial ways to spend one’s time, but I found them to be exhilarating. Business school focused my passion, forged my resolve and launched me into the world ready to get after a new career. (You can read much more about this next year when you buy my awesome book.)

Yet I get that some don’t value those kinds of experiences and I know that many reading this are probably still thinking: “The biggest names in the tech industry – Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Marc Benioff – none of these guys has an MBA!”

Yeah, I know.

But just imagine what they could have accomplished if they did.

* “had” being the operative word.

 The story of my interview is fabricated. Except the part about me not knowing what a platform was. That’s entirely true.

Paul Ollinger is a stand-up comedian, digital media veteran, and a Tuck ’97. His humorous (and highly-nutritious) guide to the MBA application process will be published in 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Paul_Ollinger and LinkedIn.


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