Why Earning My MBA was Valuable: 7 Reasons

20170701 - Why My MBA was valuable

Life sometimes surprises us in ways we don’t always expect. When I began my MBA education in 2012, I thought I was doing it to differentiate myself from other civil engineers so that I could show business proficiency and understanding on top of technical engineering and project management skills. The goal was to become a leader of an engineering company – not one in particular, and the position varied by the size.  Today, I am still geared toward goals of organizational leadership, and the MBA changed my career for the better, while helping me find that the real estate industry was where I want to be.

I’ve been asked often about the value of an MBA, particularly by engineering students and alums of engineering programs. I always explain how it has to be a personal choice, but always explain what made my MBA experience valuable to my career to help provide the petitioner some context.

  1. I waited a few years after graduating. Had I gone to grad school of any kind straight from college, I would have gone for a technical engineering degree, despite my interest for the business world. I needed a few years to remove myself from homework and lectures and to just get experience and determine a direction. Had I entered a graduate engineering program right away, I may have never finished, or finished a degree unfulfilled and frustrated that I needed to make it work for me. Particularly beneficial for business school, I had at least four years of working in companies public and private, gigantic and small, to think about how real world businesses operated. This was valuable context to have as a background – without it, everything is just theory. Your work experience becomes case study for every case study you might undertake!
  2. I picked the format that was right for me. I was concerned about having the liquidity to pay the mortgage on my house if for some reason my renter didn’t or left, and I didn’t want to lose 2 years worth of engineering experience to go back to a similar role (that was before I realized what it was I truly wanted to do!) and simultaneously take on two years worth of tuition and living expenses debt, which would have been the case with a full time program. I seem to often impress people, and as a result get questions of why I didn’t go to Harvard Business School or MIT’s Sloan School of Management. All in one moment I am filled with regret and doubt that I could have gone to play at even bigger institutions, but I remind myself there was a lot more than prestige that went into my decision making. The part time, online program was the best thing for me at the time.
  3. I could afford to pay for it. My dad is a Boston College alum and last fall was my 31st season of BC football at 30 years old. When I had researched the program at the Carroll School of Management, I was enthused at the possibility of becoming a BC grad that I even put down a down payment after gaining admission. However, when I did the math out (which I should have done before the down payment), the cost of the program did not fit within what my employer was willing to pay and what I could afford.  The Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts was a far more affordable program, and even highly ranked – currently #1 in the US for on online, part time program according to Financial Times and now in the top 12 by the US News & World Report. I couldn’t imagine having student loan payments for part time grad school that were almost as much as my Boston apartment rent – for the whole 2 bedroom apartment.
  4. Made me a more marketable candidate. “MBA preferred” was what I believe was listed on the job description for my current role when I was job searching. Jackpot! That was an absolute advantage that I had against potential others applying for the role. It also opened doors with some great people in my network who knew and liked me, and could now see that I had taken, at least educationally, the next step toward working my way up and being a bigger contributor.
  5. Gained knowledge I was hungry for. I am an insatiable learner. I enthusiastically consume non-fiction every day for a half hour, or more if I have the time.  Reading a book that condensed an MBA into a few hundred pages was going to leave me with more questions than answers. I was fortunate to have professors in my program who were appreciative of my questions and digging deeper, as well as some group mates who were thoughtful about what we were trying to achieve. My eyes were opened to fields like marketing where I previously had no interest, and then learned about the power of what that field can do.
  6. I applied my knowledge everyday to gain context. The key to learning, for me, is applying what I’ve learned.  Every month we had cost reports and project summaries and I could see the cause and effect of certain things not just on a project but the company as a whole. I didn’t have the think about “what ifs” because the business decisions were playing out in front of me, in both positive and negative ways. I could make educated assumptions on outcomes if the opposite decision had been made.
  7. My expectations were realistic. At the time, I wasn’t trying to change industries. I was focused on learning and adding to my set of skills to be a better professional. I wasn’t expecting a $250K job right away and I wasn’t expecting to hit the c-suite immediately. I knew it would help step me up, and that it was up to me to make an impact with my new knowledge and skills. It would be a waste to put the paper on the wall and not realize that effort every day is what keeps accelerating careers.

 

Would I recommend an MBA? While it opened doors and was an overall positive experience for me, in my advice to others I’ll always say it depends. I’ll be writing on the reasons why I don’t think the MBA was valuable in an upcoming post so you can see the other side of the coin.  It really comes down to personal interest, if it works for your life situation and your goals, and your willingness to dedicate significant time and effort to focus and make it worthwhile. I have friends and colleagues who went full time and would never sacrifice their experience. Whenever someone asks for my thoughts, I dig deeper about their motivations.

What was your experience with graduate school decision making? Was your degree (or not getting a degree) worthwhile, and what if anything would you have changed?

5 Goals to Achieve Balance and Success

5 goals for balance and success

Planning, whether it be a wedding or goal setting, is something I love to do. Since what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done, it is imperative to track what it is I am planning, so that I know my execution is getting me what I had intended it to bring (on schedule, on budget!). When I was preparing for field hockey double sessions in college, I had 12 workouts each week set up and dutifully completed. The tired satisfaction each day was in making the check mark(s) next to each work out and highlighting yellow.  I was never the fastest on my team, but at the least always in great shape and ready to go.

 

I was too cool to set any new year resolutions this past January (or too busy getting ready for the wedding and honeymoon later in the month). I’m a believer that RIGHT NOW is the best time to start doing anything. No waiting until tomorrow, or Monday, or exactly July 1 to set my “rest of the year goals”. Of course, I’l check in myself more regularly, but don’t need to report out to all of you each and every detail. Since the concept of “Live, Work, Play” has been sweeping the nation in recent months and years in real estate and worlds beyond, I’ll divide my goal categories into each of those topics.  

 

Live

  1. Stick to healthy habits that bring happiness. There are a few distinct healthy habits I aim to concentrate on for both health and happiness.  I focus on these four after years of research, doubting my own worth, doing too little or too much of something, or focusing on the wrong end goal in mind. I’ve been on a search for happiness for a number of years, and recently it clicked that happiness is about loving who you are, being grateful for what you have, and eliminating comparison to others. This realization brought peace to my life to replace impatient and jealous angst. It helped me to be chipper and cheerful on both inside and outside. Health is a lifelong pursuit, and one we can never give up on if we hope to lead a good, complete, and happy life.
    1. Sleep. Back in high school I was an advocate for changing the school start time, but didn’t get my campaign past writing a few letters and emails. Unfortunately, in college and a number of years later I forgot why sleep was so important, and it dragged me down. Exhausted, I wasn’t the real me, I wasn’t productive, and I wasn’t capable of all that I could accomplish.  My goal now is to get a minimum of seven hours each night, with an average meeting or bettering 7.5 hours over each week.
    2. Exercise. While I don’t participate in sports competitively anymore (maybe I should get back to that!), I need exercise to be part of my life.  Not only great for the heart, bones, and muscles, exercise is great for my brain and my soul as a form of relaxation and stress relief. Exertion doesn’t seem logical for relaxation, but pushing forward on an erg, run, walk, or even challenging myself with certain yoga poses, allows my brain to focus and escape simultaneously. When I’m done, I am often filled with pride, joy, and excitement.  There’s always the adage that you never regret a workout.
    3. Practical eating. No. Diets. Ever. Again. The philosophy is to eat what nourishes and fuels when hungry. I do track my eating to help me make smart choices, but I don’t want food to be a stressor or the enemy or the way to find stress relief.  Food powers my mind and body so I can accomplish great things, or just get through a day. Food is not an effective stress relief, and cutting back even saves money!
    4. Self-care and relaxation. If I need to stare at the ceiling, I give myself the time to stare at the ceiling. Same goes for naps, or vegging out to Red Sox baseball or a couple episodes of whatever is on HGTV, or reading fiction set in Nantucket. I have a poor history when it comes to understanding when and how to relax, and through my own turn of thought and the patient support of my husband, I’ve come to a much better acceptance of the importance of doing nothing. Watching my dogs relax is a nice reminder to slow down and give myself a break.

 

Work

  1. Finish two collaborative projects at work successfully. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by coworkers who are talented, smart, fun, and dedicated success.  With these two projects underway, as complicated and intensive as they are, we are are all dependent on each other for flawless, professional execution to add value and improve the lives of our residents. So far, so good on these two particular projects. If we can continue as we’ve processed to date, it would be two huge successes to wrap up by year’s end.  
  2. Kick off another renovation project. I’m currently in planning stages on another project and can’t wait to get sign off and get to execution. There’s a lot of work ahead of me but I thrive in bringing teams together toward a shared goal and driving to stay on schedule. I get to work with a lot of the same great people on this and even a few colleagues for the first time.

 

Play

  1. Publish my first book or ebook. I’m writing a book in what spare time I have. The book is geared toward sorority women in college and those out of school up to five years, so it is certainly not intended for everyone. Since the days of first using reading as an escape and entertainment option, the concept of writing my own book has been exciting to me.  We’ll see how this first one goes before writing any others, but it is an exciting side project and prospect to be a published author (even if it is self-publishing). The world is a different place now to be able to bring your message to the world without the filter of a publisher, and writing or publishing a book is achievable by anyone willing to put in the book – hopefully this will be an enjoyed and helpful book to those who read it!  I’m looking for an editor, so if you or someone you know specializes in that work it would be great to learn more about the services offered!
  2. See friends and family regularly and continue to make new connections. My goal is to stay better in touch with those I love, and I will achieve this by reaching out to at least one person each day, whether by text or a call, to see how they are, have some laughs or give support, and maybe even plan a get together. For connections with new people, my goal is to attend at least one networking event each month. This not only keeps me better educated about what is going on in the real estate world, but allows the opportunity to meet new people and make new connections. I love my job and company and boss and coworkers, so am not looking for a new position, but as an extrovert I get my energy from other people and networking is a productive, social, and educational way to do that.

 

So there it is!  Five goals to work toward to help me maintain balance and achieve success in all areas of my life. How are your goals progressing from New Year’s, and are you re-setting for the second half of the year? What prevents you from succeeding at what you want? Would you need help goal setting?

More Forum on Real Estate in NYC – Part 2

There was much to learn in the morning session of the NYC Real Estate Women’s Forum on February 16, 2017, as I highlighted in part one of this series.  The late morning and afternoon provided just as much insight and education, punctuated with personality and storytelling with the closing key note conversation.

The session before a late lunch was very informative, with panelists from organizations with varying approaches and level of resources. I won’t go into the philosophies of any particular firm, but rather the general advice they offered for being in real estate for the long haul.

Current Affairs: Financing and Investment in Today’s Market

Moderated by Kristen Lonergan, Partner at Greenberg Traurig

Panelists were Ruth Ann Blankenheim, Co-Founder & Principal at Harbor Road Holdings; Beth Linn, Principal at Wrightwood Financial; Sherry Rexroad, Managing Director & CIO at BlackRock; Ashley Rissolo, Portfolio Manager at Ceruzzi Properties; and Sondra Wenger, Managing Director at CIM Group

  • When times change in the market, don’t leave the market but change your strategy there
  • Through periods of uncertainty, ensure foundation is solid
  • Extend the runway (of what is available)
  • Neutralize your portfolio from the risks of exposure; Need to have some sense and inclusion of underwriting for the unknowns
  • Some development firms, particularly the smaller ones, can be more affected by state and local elections than would other companies by federal and other global elections.
  • A recommendation to beginners was to get a stabilized asset to start – the idea is that the bank can take it over in case of failure and it already has income associated with it.
  • Crowdfunding might be perceived by some as a representation of pent up demand for private equity

The final panel of the day was immediately following lunch break. Though probably the “least technical” session of the day, it might have been the most interesting. Titled “Women at the Helm”, the panel focused on reaching pinnacle positions and experiences in a real estate career.

Moderated by Andrea Kretchmer, Principal at Xenolith Partners

Panelists were Roberta Axelrod, Director at Time Equities; Lisa Brill, Partner at Shearman & Sterling; Alison Novack, Principal at Hudson Companies; Onay Payne, Director at Clarion Partners, and Daria Salusbury, President & CEO at Salusbury & Co.

  • Pursue what makes you smile
  • Mentors can help you develop and find positions, but you must put yourself forward for opportunities
  • Don’t limit yourself – allow yourself to figure things out when you don’t have 100% of the experience required. If you don’t go for it, the guys will.
  • Lessons to younger selves include the importance of building relationships and laying the foundation of where you want to be
  • Even today, women must still work harder for their opportunities. Be present everyday.
  • Younger women should have more confidence because they have voices that need to be heard; they must get past the feeling of being small
  • Make room for yourselves at the table with your elbows
  • To attract women to real estate:
    • Be invested early on with successes – you are more likely to stick with it
    • Give opportunities consciously to younger women
    • Don’t close off – the better you do the more opportunities you have. Keep learning.
    • Re-evaluate where you are every few years
  • On pivoting, one must factor out fear as there is always risk.
  • Figure out strategy and tactics as you go, nothing needs to be figured out fully at the start
  • Don’t be weighed down by negative messages in developing your plans
  • Go to events, speakers, and networking events – and be an active participant. There are many organizations to join. Every nugget of knowledge or connection you make can be helpful

The afternoon keynote was full of punches of personality, accompanied by star-filled stories and great advice from one of the premier brokers in New York, Dolly Lenz of Lenz Real Estate. She was interviewed by Good Day New York Anchor Rosanna Scotto.

  • Be willing to do what no one else wants to do – this allows you to differentiate yourself.
  • Use your assets creatively (Dolly’s ability to speak Spanish literally opened doors for her)
  • View each failure as an opportunity to get onto what is “next!”
  • Meticulous developers have buildings that don’t leak
  • Make you difference in someone else’s life. Always be willing to help people.
  • Today everyone needs to be able to add value to what they do, particularly with the pervasive technology that can be used by anyone.
  • Regarding ethics, we need to raise the bar for standards in the industry. We need to police ourselves as an industry
  • Enthusiasm, respect, and finding what motivates you will help you be successful.
  • Document everything and show how you are different. Be ready to do heavy lifting
  • Invest well in who you invest in as a mate – pick the best guy in the world
  • Find something that connects you with people
  • When the door opens, knock it down
  • You don’t get what you don’t ask for. The person who gets asked for a project or business is likely the person you talked to last about it

One of the strange themes throughout the day was commentary on the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.  While each woman who mentioned his name clarified her neutrality toward him politically (or seemingly provided some degree of distance), those who had worked with him heavily praised the President for his “genius” as a developer, particularly within New York City.

All in all, there was a lot to take away from the conference.  I was fortunate to be able to attend with my manager and many of my colleagues from the New York region and build the network with them in addition to others outside the company.

Have you been to any good conferences lately? What have you learned about what is different in being a woman in real estate?

From Overwhelmed to Overjoyed – How I Found the Path to Real Estate

It would start Sunday nights – the stomach aches, the head aches, and dread. I was miserable knowing I had to go to work in the morning, and it was starting to impact not only my excitement about professional opportunity, but negatively impacting my body also.  I knew, more than anything, I needed a change.  A big change.  

Educated as an engineer, analysis of what would go into that change was going to be part of the process. Undoubtedly!  The big questions for me were:

  1. Why am I making this change so I feel exceptionally satisfied with my work at the next job?
  2. Where have I been and where do I want to go in my career?
  3. Who inspires me?
  4. What do I want to spend my days doing?

These questions were not easy to answer immediately.  I spent significant time soul searching, chatting with friends about their own careers, scouring career sites, attending alumni events for both undergrad and grad schools, and networking with anyone and everyone I respected, admired, and was interested to spend time with.

There were two particular additional tools that ultimately helped me shape my search toward real estate:

  1. Reflecting back on what I enjoyed the most in my career
  2. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

As a young civil engineer I had the opportunity to take the day-to-day reigns under guidance of a Professional Engineer and later a Professional Architect in a role of Owner’s Project Manager for a busy airport in New England.  As OPM, you represent the interests of the owners with other parties, yet as a third party. It is a challenging position but work that I loved.  I strived to understand the mission and challenges of the owner to the point where our success was intertwined.  As much as the big picture was energizing, the details became enchanting. For about 18 months I worked on this set of projects and received unsolicited, exuberant feedback from just about everyone I worked with.  This positivity gave me a sense that this type of role, working for and as the owner, was something for which I had talent and affinity.

The MBTI assessment was something I had taken a few years earlier at the WPI Career Development Center, coached on my results by an amazing friend who is now a Director there.  I was unabashedly an ESTJ, known as “The Executive” or “The Guardian”: practical, traditional, organized, visionary, hard-working, loyal, leader, and great at bringing people together.  When you research the terms “ESTJ careers”, several fields consistently appeared, with one striking my fancy: Sales Representatives, Law Enforcement Officers, Military, Teaching, Coaching, and Real Estate.  Real Estate was a field that I could use my MBA that I had just completed and my experience was relevant – I would be working with people in exactly the roles I had performed earlier in my career.  It was a matter of now desiring to sit in another chair at the table!

My network was helpful to me once I understood and could communicate my goal and desired opportunity. Surprisingly, the opportunity I earned and am happy to be working in today came from an online posting, and joined a company where I knew no one – quite contrary to all of the career advice out there!  It took effort, thoughtfulness, and creativity to tie my personal story together in a way that showed I could help fill the gaps needed by my now current company.  I wake up each Monday, excited to go to work. Sundays are enjoyable now, and perhaps I sometimes feel even a bit anticipatory of the week ahead!

Career dreams can come true.  Work can be enjoyable, fun, and rewarding – not work at all.  It takes conscious thoughts and efforts to transform direction, and sometimes considerable time.  Don’t be afraid to use any and all tools available to you! Life has a wonderful way of working out when you work hard for what you want.