The Babson MBA, One Year Later


Graduation is a happy day for everyone. My daughter's reaction was to ask "why are you wearing a dress daddy?"

Graduation is a happy day for everyone. My daughter's reaction was to ask "why are you wearing a dress daddy?"

A little over one year ago, I finished up my final coursework for my MBA from Babson College. The program I completed was the Fast Track MBA. For two years, I was part of a cohort of 88 classmates who met face-to-face every six weeks on Fridays and Saturdays, while also completing weekly assignments, discussions and attending lectures online. On average I spent about 20 hours a week studying and fulfilling the requirements for the Babson Fast Track MBA, while continuing to spend my normal 50+ plus hours a week working full-time. 

Of course no discussion of the Babson MBA is possible without discussing Entrepreneurship. Babson has been ranked as the #1 MBA program for Entrepreneurship for 16 17 consecutive years ahead of other schools like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. And as you might imagine Entrepreneurship is hard-wired into every course and almost every discussion. It goes far beyond just learning how to spell the word. 

Usually when most people hear the word Entrepreneurship they immediately think about people starting their own business, and yes that is a part of it. But at its core Entrepreneurship is about opportunity recognition and taking advantage of those opportunities. Every good business school will spend time teaching Porter’s Five Forces, among other things, but Babson really makes you think about each of those forces – internally and externally – and how they will apply to a variety of situations and to companies small, medium and large. Whether its starting a business or trying to initiate a new project internally at your current company, Babson really prepares you to analyze a situation, make actionable recommendations and then execute on those recommendations. 

Not to endorse a particular brand but the Staples Better Binder series of binders worked the best, for me.

Not to endorse a particular brand but the Staples Better Binder series of binders worked the best, for me.

In no particular order here is some advice for incoming Babson Fast Track Students, most of which will also apply to Babson’s other MBA programs and to MBA students at any school. 

  1. Buy lots of 3-ring binders  preferably in 1 1/2″ or larger sizes.  Babson uses the case method of study so you read and prepare a lot of cases for each class which are most easily dealt with by filling them in 3-ring binders. In addition each course has a course packet of supplemental reading as well as last minute notes and background info. Besides three-ring binders, buy one of those $25 heavy duty 3-hole-punches that make a slightly larger hole and can punch through about 30 sheets of paper in one shot. You’ll be glad you did.
  2. Get to know Excel fast, especially if you don’t have a number crunching background. As an IT guy I thought I knew how to navigate Excel well enough but I primarily used Excel for sorting and displaying information and simple database work. I had to learn through painful trial and error how to set up financial statements, how to translate and transcribe formulas written on paper into the computer.  The real lessons were in learning how to set up decision trees and the higher order statistical analysis required when performing operational assessments with case data. In addition get comfortable with automating as much as you can in Excel – the time savings are well worth the effort.
  3. Trust your team. Teamwork is just as important, if not more so, in B-school as it is in sports or in business. You will spend plenty of hours working with your classmates in small groups completing assignments on deadline. You can’t do it all yourself and you have to learn to delegate tasks and trust that they will be done. If you can’t do this, your time in B-school will be painful and you’ll miss out on some of the key lessons.
  4. Get to know your classmates. The Fast Track admissions process is rigourous  and designed to create a balanced cohort with professionals from a variety of backgrounds. It’s amazing how much I learned from my classmates that wasn’t covered in class and that I was able to put to use at work from day 1. Seriously if you don’t want to know your classmates why bother getting an MBA? The opportunity to get to know people on a professional and personal basis from a variety of companies in a wide variety of roles is unique and if you don’t take advantage of it you are missing out on a significant portion of your MBA.
  5. Leverage everything Babson has to offer. Babson has so many resources that it can take pages to list them all. The Library maintains a large selection of new books on business, culture, fiction and non-fiction.  New books come in every month and they provide great leavening to the classroom material.  Beyond books the library’s databases, information services and access to research reports is extensive – you probably can’t name a service or periodical they don’t subscribe to. The Career Counseling and Development office is great, be sure to take advantage of the executives-in-residence – all of whom are great sources of advice and insight. Whatever your business interest – Clean Energy, Social Media, Finance, Venture Capital, Start-ups, and so on – Babson has resources dedicated to it. Use them and you’ll be better off for it.
  6. Ask for help when you need it, and you will need it at some point. If you don’t need help at some point in the program you aren’t challenging yourself enough. The MBA is a time to challenge yourself and get outside of your comfort zone. Are you a great marketer? Then you should take more finance and accounting electives. Can you crunch numbers in your sleep, maybe its time for some marketing classes. Ultimately the MBA is what you make of it and the harder you push yourself now, the more dividends it will pay down the road.
  7. Get out of Dodge, or to be more specific get out of Olin Hall and go on an off-shore course. Babson offers a variety of classes which allow you to attend lectures in other countries as well as meet with local business leaders and build your professional network. This experience is invaluable. Several of my classmates used their off-shore course to establish contacts for immediate business projects. I can’t speak highly enough about taking an off-shore course. If possible take two – they are that good. I know my Russia course was invaluable and I wish I had taken a second off-shore course.
  8. Stay on campus when you have classes. Even if you live locally consider spending Friday nights at the Executive Center on Campus. It’s a great way to get to know the students coming in from out-of-state and it helps eliminate distractions. Although I only live about an hour away from campus not having to drive home on Friday nights only to then turn around and drive right back first thing Saturday mornings was a huge time-saver. I was able to finish up any homework with teammates Friday evenings after class as well as socialize with my fellow classmates. The cost is actually fairly small when compared to the overall cost of your MBA.
  9. Talk to your professors. Seriously. The faculty at Babson have deep roots in business with most of them maintaining active consultancies helping them gain and maintain current knowledge and networks while getting them out of the proverbial Ivory Tower of Academia. Take advantage of their knowledge and advice and don’t hesitate to ask them questions. The professors are professors because they want to help people learn.

 

A sign like this might be useful to hang outside your home office while you are in the program.
A sign like this might be useful to hang outside your home office while you are in the program.

 

10. Work hard. I shouldn’t have to say this but properly done the MBA is hard work. Don’t just read a case and learn the facts, anyone can do that – read between the lines of the case and think about what isn’t said. Look at the appendixes and attachments to the case. Crunch some numbers, do some ratio analysis even if the case is a management case. The MBA, unlike many undergrad experiences, is about more than just reciting facts. When you properly prepare a case you should be able to summarize the facts, analyze the information and make recommendations with supporting evidence. The quality of the supporting evidence is what separates a hasty preparation from thoughtful preparation.

11. Have Fun. School is blast and learning is fun. It really is. Sure you’ll work hard (see #10 above) but hopefully you’ll be able to have fun while you do it. (see #3 and #4).  The Fast Track MBA feels like a marathon at times – but like marathon runners you do get an endorphin high as you look back on your achievements while in the program. The shared misery is a bonding experience far deeper than you realize. The MBA in general, and the Fast Track MBA specifically, is much like boot camp in that it is a shared touchstone for all alumni. You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before but afterwards you’ll look back on what you’ve accomplished and realize how much more you can accomplish in the future.

Hopefully this list will be helpful to you. I know I keep revisiting lessons learned from the program and leveraging them in new ways on a regular basis. Do you have your MBA? What advice did I miss? Are you about to go to Babson – if so let me know what questions you may have. -t

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  1. #1 by Naveen Venkataraman on 2010/05/03 - 09:55

    Hi Thom,

    I am an incoming student to the 2 year MBA program at Babson. I have been tracking your blog and have enjoyed reading about your Babson experience.

    I am interested in knowing how you went about learning MS Excel? Do you have any specific book recommendation(s)?

    Thanks for your time!

    Naveen

    • #2 by Thom on 2010/05/04 - 08:32

      Naveen, thank you for your comment and for reading my blog. Congratulations on your decision to enroll in Babson’s two-year program. It really is a great place and a great program from which to earn your MBA.

      As to learning Excel I’d recommend several sources to find out which works best for you because everyone learns a little differently. Microsoft has great resources and training available here. I also went to a local bookstore and browsed several differnt books to figure out which one seemed to work best for me. And finally my fellow classmates were also a great resource. You’ll quickly find out who among you is an Excel wizard – asking them for help and spending time deconstructing their spreadsheets is very useful. The more comfortable you are with Excel/Word/OneNote before you enter the program the better off you’ll be because you can spend your time focusing on your assignments and content and not trying to figure out how to format a cell. And if you have a chance, do try out Office 2010 because it is really amazing.
      Best of luck to you, you’ll have a great time. The 1st year of the two-year program is a lot of fun and it’s pretty intense. Hopefully we’ll run into each other on campus since I try to come to networking events whenever I can. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      • #3 by Binesh Prabhakar on 2010/05/13 - 15:29

        Hi Naveen:

        Are you entering the ‘Fast Track Program’, Fall 2010? If yes, me too. bineshpart11@gmail.com is my email.

  2. #4 by john shams on 2010/05/30 - 01:21

    Hi Thom,

    I am a current student that just started the Fast Track program. To begin, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I own a personal training/fitness services company in New York City. I attended Rutgers with a bachelors in bio and psyche and graduated with a 3.5. I have always been my own boss and always had my own business. My business is fairly successful. I am earning between 250k to 300k a year. I chose to pursue a Babson MBA because I felt I have come to a standstill in my career. Because I work for myself, I do not have any corporate experience. All though I do well financially, I am 33 years old, I feel, at this point I need a real education in entrepreneurship. Most of my classmates are corporate guys, which I have zero experience in. My question is, having completed the Babson MBA, do you think the investment of time and energy will pay off for someone who plans on expanding his business but not in the scope of a corporate culture. Will it give me real skills and knowledge to be an entrepreneur or will it just prepare me more to be a manager for a corporation. If it is the latter, than that wont be much value to me. I need skills and knowledge that will enable to expand my business and not to work for another company. I am in a bit of a dilema because so far most of what we have studied in the cases dont pertain to entrepreneurship. A current student of Fast Track told me that the whole entrepreneurship focus of Babson is exaggerated. I assume most people choose Babson because they dont want to be a corporate slave and run their own show..Will the Babson MBA prepare one for that and teach them the skills required to go out and launch their own venture from the ground up?

    • #5 by Thom on 2010/05/30 - 08:42

      John, first of all thank you for reading my blog and asking a question. Secondly your question is complex.
      As you have rightly noted most Fast Track students don’t already have their own business generating $250K+ of bottom-line revenue – in fact many entrepreneurs would be jealous of that kind of cash-flow from which to expand their business. You are obviously already a successful entrepreneur. This puts you into a position of strength and leverage- something you know a bit about given your business.
      I can’t begin to know what’s right for you, but let me give you my take on what you’ve told me. Yes the Fast Track program is heavy on corporate cases – but then so is every business school – but you’ll find that opportunity recognition is key skill for entepreneurs. Most MBAs are designed to provide a framework and structure from which to learn about business with an opportunity to specialize in a particular discipline. Babson’s strength is entrepreneurship and as you get farther into the course and begin to take advantage of some of the extra-curricular events that Babson offers you’ll begin to see that specialty percolate more into every course. Once you get to the point of the program allowing for electives there are several good ones to take that focus on key skills for entrepreneurs. There is one that focuses specificially on M&A activity – a key skill if you plan to grow you business by acquisition. Another class that is incredibly useful is managing a growing business – with cases that are directly applicable to your world – I took it and it was one of the best classes. Still another class on valuation – a very useful skills when buying another business. A class that isn’t ‘directly’ related is negotiations – most everyone thinks they are a good negotiator but this class gives you actionable skills, data and practice to improve your negotiating skills. It really is a must-take elective. At Babson there is a slight preference for starting venture-funded businesses – but with your current cash-flow you can probably by-pass using that particular growth strategy. I don’t know but I imagine much of your success is dependent on managing/hiring the right people from which to extend your brand – there are management and HR courses – as well as Babson-sponsored conferences that talk about challenges in those areas.
      I can’t speak to what someone else says about the program, but as in most things it’s mostly about what you bring to the program. If you want to focus on entrepreneurship Babson is probably the best place to do it. Personally I started the program at age 38 and had a mortgage, family, etc – so I have chosen to not to start my own business right now and instead accepted a position with Microsoft and am choosing to use my entrepreneurship skills within the context of the corporate environment in a pre-sales role. A position I doubt I’d have gotten without the Babson MBA.
      You work in a business where the value and results of hard work are displayed for everyone to see – if you bring that work ethic to Babson I have no doubt that you’ll continue your success and learn the skills you are looking for. If you have more specific questions don’t hesitate to contact me and we can meet up that next time you are on campus. Best of luck and again thanks for reading the blog and commenting.

  3. #6 by john shams on 2010/05/30 - 23:53

    Thom,

    Thank you for your informative and insightful response. In my position, being my own boss and not having the mentorship opportunities that someone in a corporate environment has, the Babson MBA seems to be one of the best ways to fill in the cracks in my business knowledge. I guess the challenge is for me to find ways to apply the knowledge to what I am currently doing and what I plan to do in the future…which is undetermined. Hopefully, this experience will steer me in the right direction.

    • #7 by Thom on 2010/06/01 - 09:39

      John, You are on the right track that’s for sure. The mentoring – from classmates, professors and networking opportunities – is an essential part of the MBA, in fact it might be the part with the most long-term value. What makes it especially valuable is that it occurs outside of the normal workplace hierarchy, thereby benefiting from distance and perspective as well as an objectivity that is rarely found with in mentoring relationships inside of a company.

      And you are absolutely right – leverage your experience, knowledge and business challenges to find the most value from the classroom. Your classmates can also be of value with subject-matter expertise that you may not have, even it it is within a corporate framework, while you’ll provide significant value to them with your real-world entrepreneurial experiences – both the successes and failures.

      Good luck and let me know how it’s going.

  4. #8 by Shan on 2011/12/17 - 15:47

    Hi Thom,

    One quick q: on your MBA Certificate, is it stated that yours is
    Fasttrack MBA…. or Is it same as FullTime/Parttime MBA certificate….

    • #9 by Thom on 2012/02/05 - 17:18

      Shan, thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. The Babson MBA degree is the same regardless of whether it is the traditional two-year full-time program, the one-year, the part-time or the Fast-Track program. And it is a full Master’s of Business adminsitration – not a certificate or executive education program. The fact that all degrees granted carry the Babson name is part of the reason for the rigor of the program. Good luck.

  5. #10 by Andrew on 2012/02/08 - 14:06

    Hi Thom,

    I’ve read your blog and appreciate the candidacy on the Fast-Track MBA. I’ve been seeking out an MBA in order to develop well-rounded business acumen in innovation, strategy, marketing and simply the ability to foster an idea from inception to implementation. I’ve been admitted to both Babson’s Fast-Track and Cornell’s EMBA. I understand and value Babson as the top ranking MBA for Entrepreneurship. However, I don’t necessarily plan on starting my own company, but would like to shift careers from business analysis/information systems to product development/brand management, or strategy consulting. How would you rate Babson’s MBA for seeking out those types of opportunities when compared to a higher ranking business school in general, like Cornell? My gripe with the “traditional” MBA is its vanilla set of tools (accounting, finance, marketing, blah…), and I’ve always wanted something different, more creatively inspiring yet capable of developing and honing solid business skills. But I’m afraid Babson’s reputation outside of Mass. may not resonate as much as bigger, more widely recognized institutions. Being an MBA grad from the school, and having firsthand knowledge of the types of students that attended the program, and organizations they work for (if any), how would you address those types of concerns?

    Thank you!

    -A

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