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Conquest @Questrom: Taking The Online MBA Plunge

Are you someone who has amassed a decade of work experience? Have you always wanted to pursue a MBA from a reputable school but not give up on your career?  In recent years, I’ve wondered how I could pursue my education without sacrificing my job and integrating into my work-family commitments. Eventually, I took a leap of faith and enrolled in an online MBA.

First, let me tell you about myself.

I am an investment professional in growth equity. That means charting a demanding cross-continent career trajectory, all while being a father to two daughters. Even more, I am someone who is donning a growth mindset, consistently at war with myself to tackle the next challenge. I would naturally like to take senior leadership roles. To do this, I knew that I needed more practical knowledge. At the same time, I questioned if I needed to put myself back in school to learn the traditional and structural constructs of leadership. Looking towards the future, I wanted to be able to manage for a digital-default future and know how to maneuver associated risks and leverage opportunities.

SETTING UP THE GUARD RAILS

Knowing this, it was time for me to pursue my long-time goal of an MBA. Question was, what were my options?

Earlier in life, I dedicated a few years to Singapore military life, where I served in a Taiwanese military base and learned conversational Mandarin. A few years later, I studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to pursue technology ventures whilst working for a technology startup. These experiences molded me into taking the road less traveled.

For a long time, I had subscribed to the “theory” that a good MBA was one that is on-campus for two years at a “Top 10” global MBA program. In recent years, I began to shift away from this stodgy perspective. I could not upend my career and personal life, to sit myself in a campus classroom – period. With our lives being so digital – and by virtue of my investment role – I could see how pervasive digital higher education had become. I also believed these digital platforms could bring quality education to homes. I wanted be part of this emerging opportunity – or a case study, to use MBA parlance. I wanted to see if there were options that measured up brick-and-mortar options.

For that, I set myself a few guard rails for MBA hunt:

* Strictly no Executive MBA

* Program quality and branding that was current with times

* Legitimate 2-year program with in-built flexibility (with respect to time and an on-campus/digital mix)

* High value-for-money

* Optional GMAT (To be fair, I noted several schools were relaxing this requirement in view of the pandemic)

* Good mix of structured class, self and team-based learning

Very quickly, the options looked bleak.

Arvind Ayyala

FINDING A FIT

In August 2020, during a random web-crawl for digital MBA programs, I chanced upon Boston University’s OMBA (online MBA) program deadline. I thought it was a hoax; it was a marquee name with a pricing that seemed like a bargain for the structured and practical MBA curriculum. Soon after, I was pouring through the curriculum, looked within my network for BU graduates and going through discussion forums. Quickly, it dawned upon me that this program could be “It.

Several factors gave me confidence to pursue the BU OMBA. I was excited by BU’s heritage, branding, and educational program innovation. Boston University had been home to Martin Luther King Jr. and Alexander Graham Bell. Questrom School of Business had innovated 8 years ago with MBA programs in healthcare, digital technology and sustainability – all seemingly critical areas for the new decade. Some of my friends and professional links whom I hold in high regard were either from BU or Questrom. They had positive reviews with respect to quality of teaching and peer learning, which are important for a digital MBA format. Most importantly, as part of the information seminars, it became clear that the MBA was being taught by esteemed faculty who were teaching the on-campus MBA and the cohort was global in nature with mid-management experience.

Despite my enthusiasm for Questrom, I had to navigate other personal considerations common to MBA candidates. My wife was pursuing her 2nd Master’s degree and we were taking care of two girls. I had to ensure my investment fund was supportive of my pursuit and accommodating of my commitments. Fortunately, their support came quickly in the form of a recommendation letter. At home, my wife and I talked the issues out. We planned our schedules to be complimentary so that one took care of the kids while the other could tend to coursework or work. We also set ourselves guidelines on how to be mentally and physically “present” when it came to spending time with our daughters. And like that, I decided to add on a 2-year MBA “subscription” to our schedules.

Fast forward to January 2021, I embarked on being part of the 2nd cohort of this program. I am already experiencing glimpses of the effort that has gone into crafting the program. Let me share a few examples and hopefully, you find these “nuggets” informative in your decision making.

1) Focus on acclimatizing – Through a 3-week MOD 0, the program coordinators helped in acclimatizing students to varying digital tools and to achieving team performance. The initial 3-weeks on hindsight were instructional about what was to come for next 2 years; delivery of bite-sized content, intuitive assignment instructions, and leveraging technology to facilitate campus-mimicking interactions amongst faculty and students.

From these 3 weeks came my first experience that made me reflect that my decision to pursue MBA was an appropriate one. It was a seemingly intuitive, practically important framework. It was also one I personally had not delved into conceptually before. That included the varying stages of team development and how to nurture it. These had immediate applications to my work as well as any manager’s daily work.

2) Responsiveness to queries and community building – I observed this responsiveness “trait” all the way from the Program Director to instructors to student success teams. For example, right after live lectures, if the students polled on elaboration of specific concepts, it would make its way into an online forum curated by instructors. Within the course, we also had a course, digital platforms like Pronto (think of it as “Whatsapp for students”). This fast became avenues to discuss “live” lectures, assignments and everything in-between.

These are just two examples of the school’s attempt in making it easier to foster a community for working professionals across time zones in a synchronous/asynchronous learning . As an aspiring MBA student, the above snippets could become critical in ensuring your success in a digital MBA.

3) Breaking the mold of MBA education – A standard MBA deploys courses in fields such as finance, marketing, and operations. Real-life application, however, often integrates these disciplines. As a manager, one manages leadership and functional complexities in a variety of scenarios. For instance, you have to navigate internal-external stakeholders’ expectations, lead with integrity, and demonstrate clarity of thought to your team. At the same time, you have to do justice to your operations or finance functional responsibility. The BU OMBA was created to support a leader to navigate these intricacies, with six tailored interdisciplinary modules.

For instance, MOD 1 focuses on “Creating Value For Business And Society”. As I am going through it, I can find practical applications for concepts such as “stakeholder management” and “pricing strategies” in my day-to-day work. For example, I could apply frameworks learnt in classroom to helping my portfolio companies iterate on and adopt right-sized pricing strategies given their growth stage, sector-specific externalities and customers’ willingness to pay. This is precisely the real-life applicability that Questrom OMBA had touted. Early signs do suggest that the school will supply similar “instant gains” going forward.

These revelations further bolstered my confidence in the program and I look forward to making the most out of it.

Hope you get to take the plunge into digital MBA too. Meanwhile, stay safe and well.

About Author – Based in California, Arvind is co-leading EDBI’s growth investment activities in the USA/Canada, across multiple sectors and serves on several company Board of Directors. Prior to joining EDBI in Singapore, he was based out of Mumbai, India; served with EDB as Director (India | Sri Lanka) and orchestrated Indian enterprise investments into Singapore. Arvind brings depth in networks spanning multiple sectors, across Indian subcontinent, SEA and USA. In addition, Arvind was with Singapore’s Public Service, involved in strategizing and execution of industry development work for the Energy & Chemicals as well as the Infrastructure sectors at EDB in Singapore. Arvind started work with Load Control Technologies, a NDT-centric start-up in Philadelphia, as an Enterprise Sales Engineer with a focus on building and converting sales pipeline with F100 companies.

He pursued BioChemical Engineering (Honours) from the National University of Singapore and technology ventures studies at the University of Pennsylvania (SEAS | Wharton) on a scholarship.  

(Author can be reached via LinkedIn here)