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A Lot to Learn

Just because you run a company doesn't mean you know everything. With a little education, though, you can change that.

Not long ago, most entrepreneurs thought the only degree they'd ever need would be one from the School of Hard Knocks. "Who needs some ivory tower intellectual telling me how to run my business?" the thinking went. Of course, they were partly right. There is no substitute for hands-on learning.

But post-graduate degrees and other relevant business courses can lead to smarter, faster business growth and can help build a group of highly skilled and knowledgeable employees. Classroom learning has plenty of practical applications, particularly considering the dynamic nature of today's economy. Laid-off dotcommers are taking classes on sales and marketing fundamentals, and founders of traditional companies are going back to school to better understand e-commerce. With night and weekend classes, certificate programs, online courses and customized in-house options, executives now have more educational opportunities than ever before.

Master's of Your Domain
A full-time MBA program remains the cornerstone of most schools' executive curriculum. A typical MBA program takes two years for full-time students, but three to four years for part-timers, depending on course load. Peter Carlisle, 33, founder of Portland, Maine-based Carlisle Sports Management and an MBA student at the University of Southern Maine, usually takes one or two night classes per semester. On school days, he faces the challenge of finding time for homework between meetings and conference calls.

"My typical day is getting to work early and doing as much as I can before noon," says Carlisle. "I'll take 45 minutes of lunch to prepare for class. If I have more to do, I'll hold calls after 5 p.m. and do more coursework. Classes usually run from 7 to 9:30. It's exhausting, but you can do it without taking time off from work, which I couldn't afford to do."

Carlisle says the discussion among seasoned executives enrolled in his classes is often just as valuable as the course material itself. "I like nothing better than disagreeing with my professor and classmates," says Carlisle. "That kind of discourse makes you evaluate your own management skills."

Unlike his other degrees, Carlisle insists his MBA is more about learning practical skills than hanging a piece of parchment on his office wall. "You go through a lot of school and know it's valuable, but you're there for the degree," says Carlisle of the typical college scenario. "Now I couldn't care less for the degree, and I'm a sponge because of it. I choose classes based on what helps me manage my company. I'm going for an MBA, but the degree is an incidental benefit."

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This article was originally published in the September 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Lot to Learn.

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