When I got my MBA from Northwestern University in 1985, I never planned to be an entrepreneur. My goal was to add to my business skills for my sales support job at IBM. I wanted the additional education credential on my resume, especially since IBM was paying the tuition. Six years later, I found myself starting my first company and heavily relying on what I had learned in business school.
Here are the skills MBAs learn that are critical to be a successful entrepreneur:
How to work with a team. One of the best things that my MBA taught me was how to work with a team with diverse skills and backgrounds to accomplish specific goals. There were many times where we could not choose our team, but were forced to collaborate together in imperfect groups. This is good experience for working with a variety of people who may not all have the same objectives and skill levels. Remember that entrepreneurship is never a solo sport.
How to meet impossible deadlines. Students often complained about what they saw as unrealistic deadlines by professors. Later, I realized that these impossible deadlines mimicked what happened in the real world as I had to work long hours to meet customer expectations.
How to network. People do business with people they know, like and trust. Going to MBA school teaches students how to meet other people and determine who they can trust the most. Powerful networks for future work are always built at school.
How to test ideas and their execution without penalty. Students can pretend to start businesses or launch real companies with minimal risk if the company fails. Failing quickly, learning what I can and then taking a new action was a key skill I learned at business school.
How to read financial statements and work with spreadsheets. This is a missing talent that most entrepreneurs never learn and it has a large detrimental effect on their business. Students are forced to analyze balance sheets, profit and lost statements, and cash flow statements within assigned case studies.
How to sell ideas to a team, vendors and customers. Many entrepreneurs only want to develop products and dont think about how to market, sell and distribute them. They are afraid of these other areas or think they are not responsible for them. Business school emphasizes their critical nature of all these areas and how they represent a key barrier to entry for competitors.
How to develop a plan B (C, D, E and F). Business school taught me that success was not a straight line. Initial solutions failed and back up ideas had to be executed. In the real world, every entrepreneur needs to have multiple contingency plans when products fail and they lose customers or employees.
Did you go to business school? What did you learn that helped you become a successful entrepreneur? What other ongoing training or resources do you utilize?