Does an MBA Make You a Better Entrepreneur?
The degree doesn't hurt, but it's not what makes or breaks successful business owners.
For years, experts and business leaders have debated what makes a good entrepreneur more successful than his or her peers. More recently, the conversation has often focused on the educational attainment of the entrepreneur in question, with many arguing rather persuasively that an MBA is necessary if you want to strike out on your own and start a thriving small business that could one day evolve into an international corporate empire.
Does an MBA really make you a better entrepreneur? The pros and cons are still hotly contested, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that a sound education can help propel you to greater commercial success than you’d otherwise enjoy without it. Let's take a closer look.
It's Not About the Degree -- It's About What You Learn
The most important thing to establish when discussing the perks of getting an MBA, or any other degree, is that the slip of paper you receive when you graduate isn’t nearly as important as the knowledge that you accrue in the midst of your studies. It’s certainly true that many businesses want to ensure you’re a credentialed expert before hiring you, but when it comes to launching your own business empire, what’s even more important is the knowledge crammed into your noggin.
Still, there are some meaningful facets of attaining a degree that matter outside of what you learn. How much debt you take on in order to attain your MBA, for instance, is a crucial part of deciding whether you should get one in the first place. While it will doubtlessly propel your long-term income, it can also impede your short-term financial freedom by chaining you to loan repayments. With student debt in the United States already representing a $1.5 trillion crisis that shows no signs of abating, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself how financially secure you’ll be if you need to take on lots of additional debt.
Related: Best Colleges for Entrepreneurs
At the end of the day, however, it’s an indisputable fact that college graduates take home substantially higher incomes than their high school-educated peers, rendering an MBA an ideal way to boost your long-term prospects. When it comes to entrepreneurial pursuits and the establishment of your own company, however, you’ll need to carefully consider the short-term hurdles that must be overcome before you can claim success and start reaping rewards.
Who Is an Entrepreneur Accountable To?
To understand why MBAs aren’t always the best option for entrepreneurs, it’s worth reviewing who entrepreneurs are actually accountable to. Whereas career professionals who make a living by working for someone else’s company may need an MBA to convince a manager that they should be hired in the first place, an entrepreneur is solely interested in meeting the needs and desires of her customers. This means that you won’t be able to flout your fancy degree in an important job interview; after all, you’ll be the one doing the interviewing if everything goes according to plan. This doesn’t mean that MBAs are worthless, of course, but rather that the fact college graduates earn higher incomes doesn’t necessarily translate into greater odds of entrepreneurial success for those who hold degrees.
Successful entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel have argued against MBA programs on the basis that they cultivate “herd-like” thinking, which prevents an entrepreneur from truly being in control of his or her destiny. But this is a short-sighted view of higher education, and doubtlessly one that’s spawned from the individual experiences of these gentlemen rather than concrete data and testable results. Reviewing the best online MBA guides, it’s easy to see that dedicated individuals can find institutions of learning perfectly suited to teaching them information and skills they’d otherwise be bereft of as they forayed into a hostile marketplace.
If you focus strictly on who you’re accountable to, it’s easy to argue that entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need graduate education in order to attain commercial success. Nevertheless, the leadership skills and management abilities imparted in most graduate programs can help an entrepreneur design their company right from the very get-go, while simultaneously enabling them to avoid the costly mistakes suffered by others. It’s hard to be aware of what works and what doesn’t when you’re not schooled in how to conduct thorough market research, and the concrete results imparted by many stellar MBA programs can’t be written off as useless. While some critics of higher education insist that it’s solely useful for networking ties, good students who are sincerely committed to broadening their world views can greatly expand the arsenal of tools they’ll need to call upon in the combative commercial arena.
Pursuing a Diverse Education
For those who are truly worked up about the question of whether MBAs produce good entrepreneurs, it may be worthwhile to consider how useful they are when combined with a more diverse education elsewhere. If you have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, for instance, or a similar field that’s largely unrelated to business, obtaining an MBA is an excellent way to supercharge your pre-existing skillset and render it more optimal for a business environment. Soliciting a diverse education will effectively always be worth it, whether you’re trying to launch your own business or pursuing something completely unrelated to the competitive marketplace.
There are plenty of alluring reasons why entrepreneurs of the future will need MBAs, but don’t allow yourself to succumb to the false belief that a scrap of paper is more important than the person who earned it. If you eagerly commit to your studies with an unparalleled enthusiasm, you’ll doubtlessly propel yourself to greater success than you’d otherwise enjoy if you were striking it out alone and without an education. Ultimately, MBAs may not be necessary for everyone, but they’re an incredibly useful tool for entrepreneurs who want to start out on the right foot when forging their commercial empires.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor