8 steps to achieving an MBA while at work

For many, the art of maintaining a high-level career and a fulfilling personal life is difficult to master; but there are those that are compelled to throw a third element into the mix: additional study with the target of achieving an MBA while at work. At BSBG a number of employees have or are currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA), including BSBG Partner Andrew Bereza, IT Manager John Weston, Lead Architect Antonio Rivas, Naomi Sutton our Commercial Manager, and also QA/QC Manager Jithesh Panthalil. The BSBG blog team spoke to each of them to get some tips for the challenges that must be overcome in pursuit of achieving an MBA while at work…

1. Identify the Benefits

The first step to successfully pursuing an MBA while in employment is to understand how it can benefit you and how it’s relevant to your career moving forward. Understanding the need provides a motivation in itself.

“The MBA is a credible achievement that can be applied to so many roles, across many industries,” John Weston says. “Not only does it aid in developing a career through experience, but the wider knowledge gained benefits you in day-to-day scenarios, allowing empathy with other areas of the business and an understanding of wider processes. You effectively gain a far more holistic vision when it comes to your own role.”

Antonio Rivas completed an INSEAD Global Executive MBA, and the benefits of completing this demanding yet rewarding course of study are numerous, covering every aspect of his life, he says. “It gives you the confidence that you can achieve whatever you really pursue, by putting in the right amount of time, effort and motivation. It helps you to see the big picture (at different scales) of what you do, especially when leading teams of people. It makes you smarter in the way you use your time, and it teaches you to prioritise and always start any task with which you may be confronted, with the end goal in mind. Since completing my EMBA I always ask myself what the final objective is, no matter what I’m doing or planning to do both in my professional and personal life. When I’m in a meeting, writing an email, or doing an outdoor activity I ask myself what the goal is so that I can be more effective and add value to the task wherever possible.”

2. Be prepared to make sacrifices

“You should be prepared to sacrifice a lot of sleep, and perhaps some of your sanity!” Naomi tells us. “But also, it’s your friends and family that will suffer the most, as downtime for socialising, talking or sitting down for a cup of tea is seldom available to you during the course of your studies.”

For Andrew, the timing of his MBA meant he had to make many more sacrifices than just sleep. At the time of his study, his wife gave birth to their first child, and he was also the Project Director for The Beach, which was coming to a close. “I was hardly at home during the week or weekend at the point that my daughter was first born. To be fair to London Business School where I studied, they prepared me for the sacrifices I would be making for the personal and professional rewards I could obtain. However, until you experience it you really don’t understand how challenging and demanding it is; not only on yourself but those who support you.”

“It’s very challenging,” Antonio confirms. “I had to spend one in every five weeks out on leave to attend my INSEAD Executive MBA in Abu Dhabi, Paris, Singapore and San Francisco during a one-and-a-half-year period. At that time, I was also the Project Coordinator for a large project in Abu Dhabi leading a team of seven architects onsite.”

achieving an MBA while at work3. Prioritise your life

Prioritising tasks and aspects of your life is crucial to maintaining your work/life balance and integrating study time for an MBA. Most tend to put work first, as work is a constant with no degree of flexibility, whereas studying and family time can often be squeezed in around this. “It isn’t easy,” Naomi tell us. “I put work first when planning my available time, which means when time is short, it is my studies/personal life which take the hit. Knowing when to ‘down tools’ is something I am still learning.”

4. Commit to it

“The MBA is a difficult qualification to achieve,” John remarks. “You really do need the desire to do whatever it takes. If you approach it with anything less than full commitment, you may pass, but you won’t really gain anything or grow from it.”

5. Develop a work plan

Tasks, jobs and objectives become much easier when written down. They go from abstract, disorganised thoughts into established targets. The feeling of productivity and accomplishment as one crosses a task off the list, as it were, acts as an important morale booster. “You use any tool you find assists you in any way with organising,” Andrew tells us.  “You have work calendars, MBA calendars, weekly schedules, daily schedules and overall programme schedules.”

Antonio’s work schedule was quite simple, if very demanding: “I separated work from my Executive MBA studies. It was work five days a week from 8am to 6pm, and EMBA 20 hours a week, which broke down as two hours each evening, six days per week, plus eight hours on Saturdays.”

6. Stay active

Healthy body, healthy mind. Stay fresh and stay motivated by embracing exercise during your studies. “Motivation and tiredness were never really a problem for me. I continued to try to exercise to deal with the stress. I was really focused on the bigger picture and the enjoyment gained from learning again was enough for me with respect to motivation.”

“During my Executive MBA I used to run 25km a week on average,” Antonio says. “And in the last module of the EMBA I ran the Half Marathon in Singapore (in 1 hour 48 minutes!).”

achieving an MBA while at work7. Get the support you need

This goes for family, friends and most importantly your employer. BSBG encourages its employees to better themselves, and actively supports its employees in pursuing studies in addition to fulfilling their roles with the company. “When BSBG identifies talent and skill amongst its people, the business is quick to utilise such skills for the benefit of the Group,” Naomi says. “This put me in the fortunate position of being able to directly apply learning in parallel with my studies. Currently we have many exciting ongoing business projects which, in conjunction with my studies and BSBG’s encouragement, has contributed to my personal development.”

8. Reap the rewards

Once you’ve achieved your objectives, doors can open, and you’re able to find yourself well-positioned to carry out your current role far more effectively, as Andrew tell us. “For me, in my role as Partner of the business, the MBA has effectively broadened my foundation of knowledge to now encompass organisational behaviour, accounts and marketing, corporate structure and macroeconomics, which, as an engineer weren’t necessarily in my field of view. I’ve been trained and examined on areas of business that I put into practice every day, and I think it has made me a better manager, and that has hopefully been of benefit to BSBG too.”

Jithesh Panthalil agrees, stating that the completion of his MBA has had an impact across all areas of his work. “For me, the MBA has been a transformative experience, both professionally and personally. The course subjects covered a wide range of aspects and scenarios in the business world, and these have helped my role in the quality assurance field. All these subjects are interconnected, and understanding this has helped me to adapt, thrive and respond well to challenges.”