Nkemdilim Nwankwo was pondering his next side project — or, as he calls it, his next “side hustle” — and feeling antsy. The 2015 Michigan Ross MBA, a product manager at Microsystems in Chicago and a freelance tutor, was going through what he describes as “one of my restless quarter-life moments.” He wanted to do something more — “something that was a short-term win and something that I could say, ‘Hey, I really put this out there.'”
Nwankwo, a native of Nigeria who grew up in Miami, Florida, had worked as a software engineer and product manager at John Deere before embarking on his MBA in 2013 with the help of a fellowship. While the fellowship helped, it was not enough to cover his grad school costs, so he took out loans, as he puts it, “to live.” The debt would eventually become a large part of his post-school reality.
Nwankwo was in the shower one day last fall when the subject of e-books came up in a podcast he was listening to, and the idea struck him: Write about the reality of getting an MBA, the debt, the commitments, the restlessness he felt and that he knew other recent MBAs felt — all from the perspective of recent graduates. The result was After School: Is Getting an MBA Really Worth It?, a 250-page e-book he’s selling for $4.99, as well as an accompanying blog.
“One of the things expressed on the podcast was that if you are an expert on something, then you can go ahead and write an e-book and people will be interested in it,” Nwankwo, 29, tells Poets&Quants. “And I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think I’m an expert on anything, but I do know a lot of smart people, so how can I utilize these smart people?’ So I thought through that a little bit more and I realized that one of the questions that I get maybe once or twice a week is, ‘Tell me what your MBA experience was like. Was it worth it?’
“That said, I thought, ‘Why don’t I write a book about that from my perspective?’ But then I thought, ‘People come into business school for a variety of reasons and a variety of backgrounds, it will be better if I make it all-inclusive and try to get as many perspectives as possible.'”
A VERY RESTLESS GROUP
Nwankwo began seeking out those perspectives last fall, interviewing recently graduated MBAs — at first colleagues from Ross, then their friends, then those friends’ acquaintances, eventually talking with 30 MBAs from 12 different schools. The respondents, 17 men and 13 women, represent 23 post-business school functions and 11 post-B-school industries, multiple races and cultures — and 30 unique viewpoints on the value of a B-school degree.
Among the feedback Nwankwo got: His own restlessness is not a peculiar trait by any means.
“One thing that I kind of knew but that I got some validation for is that MBAs are really restless,” he says. “They say an MBA is going to be out of their first job within one to three years, and it is actually kind of true. So a lot my respondents actually said, ‘I’m actually looking for something new now,’ because either they’re tired of their job or they would like to move ahead or they’re tired of the situation, the manager, things like that.
“That told me I’m not alone in the restlessness feeling.”
MISCONCEPTIONS DEBUNKED, AND MANY OTHER SURPRISES
The book took about seven months to put together. Some interviews took longer than others — consultants and bankers, Nwankwo says, were straight-to-the-point types who would wrap things up in 30 minutes; marketing folks were generally more long-winded and would take as long as an hour — and by August it was ready for readers.
It begins with a simple format. Each MBA is identified by first name and position — “Robert, Management Consultant” — and most are asked five questions:
• “When people ask you what do you do, what do you say?”
• “What are your hours like?”
• “Do you like it?”
• “What’s the best part of your job?”
• “What is the worst part of your job?”
“It’s no secret that MBAs are smart, ambitious, and sometimes even pushy,” Nwankwo writes in the introduction. “As a result, they are continually thinking about what the next step in their careers is. If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t have gotten their MBA in the first place. They all had grand visions coming into school, but how do these visions play out after the first job? How quickly do they transition to the next level? Are they loyal to their employers? What would they change if they could do it all again?”
It’s not hard to believe that Nwankwo got a wide variety of responses, from the straightforward to the very revealing. “One of my interesting interviews was with one of the investment bankers, and he was a very straight-to-the-point type of guy, and he said he was actually fine with the hours, first of all, and that it is a very clean business,” Nwankwo says. “People get ideas about investment banking through movies like Wolf of Wall Street, but all of the people that he interacts with are very clean-cut, they’re straight sort of business guys, there’s none of that funny stuff going on — and that’s a misconception you get from movies.
“When he told me that I was like, ‘Wow, I really thought it was like the movies.'”
INSIGHT AND ADVICE
In later chapters, Nwankwo and his subjects delve deeper, addressing the big question, “Was it worth it?” — the answers may surprise readers — and other questions like, “What advice would you give yourself if you could do it again?” Answering the latter, Renae, an “innovation strategist,” said:
“I think that one of the big lessons is learning when to walk away from things. When I came into B-school, I felt like I had a lot to prove because I didn’t have a business background. So when I took on a challenge, I felt like I had to hang on to it, take it all the way through. There were a couple incidences where things were just not worth the time.
“I guess more planning. A lot of people think of just saying, ‘All right, I’ll get this MBA and then I’ll get this job.’ It just doesn’t work like that. That’s a changing paradigm with us millennials. We thought that you get a college degree, get a good job, and you’re done. I think you have to be more practical and think, ‘OK, within the first year or so of the MBA, I should have already planned out the kind of companies that I wanted to work for, or this industry that I wanted to be in.’”