John Gilbert got a glimpse of what it would be like to build a career at KeyBank after being recruited in 2007 to work at the Cleveland financial giant’s then-newly acquired payroll company.
“The culture at Key was just really good,” he says. “And I was looking for something Cleveland-centric where I could grow.”
But within two years, the division was sold and everyone working in it was laid off, including Gilbert, who returned to his former employer, Paychex.
“I knew I wanted to find my way back to the bank” he says. “When I was there looking at positions internally, in many cases an MBA or a master’s-level finance degree was required.”
With an undergraduate degree in philosophy, Gilbert knew a banking career was a long shot without broadening his business knowledge.
Before he had been let go by KeyBank, Gilbert began taking the prerequisites needed for Cleveland State University’s MBA program. After returning to Paychex, he enrolled in CSU’s Global AMBA — an accelerated program that would let him complete his degree by attending classes every weekend for a year.
Earning an MBA is a huge commitment.
There are classes, projects and all that reading. But it gets even trickier when you’re trying to balance a family and work with your studies. Just ask John Gilbert, a Cleveland State University Global AMBA graduate, who had a job and two young daughters — and another on the way — while going back to school for a year. Here’s his advice for doing it all.
Understand what you’re getting in to: Gilbert and his wife, Stacy, had several conversations about what it would take for him to go back to school, the sacrifices involved and how it could benefit the family. “Getting Stacy to buy in with that idea, because so much extra burden fell on her, was important,” Gilbert says. But even that wasn’t enough. “Both she and I underestimated the amount of work that was going to go into it. We didn’t really factor in all the nights I would be gone in group projects and studying.”
Plan ahead: Stacy’s due date for the birth of their third daughter fell around the time of Gilbert’s accounting final exam, so he alerted his professor in advance. “Most of the teachers and professors have families,” Gilbert says. “So they are completely understanding of stuff like that. In the grand scheme of life, being with my wife is far more important than being at an accounting final.”
Be straightforward: At times, Gilbert was forced to take off half days at work to finish the group projects he was working on for school, but it never became an issue with his superiors. “You’ve got to have some kind of buy-in from your management and you’re colleagues at work,” Gilbert says. “Most of the people that I encountered really respected the fact that I was going back to school and the extra workload that I had. … If you’re meeting your goals and deadlines at work, you should be fine.”
“I knew it was going to be difficult,” he says. “But I had to just buckle down and get to it.”
In 12 months he would be able to approach the job market with an MBA rather than waiting for two or three years. Initially, Gilbert’s choice to enroll in CSU’s global program was a matter of scheduling convenience.
But in hindsight, he’s thankful for chosing something with an international business component. A month after completing his degree, Gilbert was rehired by KeyBank for a position in its business banking department.
“[Global relationships are] just so prevalent in every business,” Gilbert says. “There’s some component that is being exported or imported, or something is being sourced from an international market. I realized that during the course of the program and even more so when I came back to Key.”
It’s something a lot of universities are realizing, too.
In fact, soon after Nitin Nohria became dean of Harvard Business School in 2010, he declared that the institution had to take on a more global focus as it moved forward.
“We have to be a place that people can come to and feel that they’re getting the world’s best thinking, that they’re learning about the world’s most cutting-edge companies,” he said in a video introduction to the school. “Harvard Business School inevitably has to become more global than it is today.”
An April 2011 U.S. News and World
Report article outlined a trend of revered schools such as Duke University, Georgetown University and the University of Pennsylvania creating specialized international or global MBA programs.
Some of Northeast Ohio’s universities are now following suit, with both expedited and immersive programs hoping to draw students who desire a global MBA focus.
It’s not just for professionals who expect to travel overseas either. For example, Gilbert recounts the story of an entrepreneur who came to a KeyBank branch one day hoping to get a letter of credit for his idea to import guar beans that are becoming a popular, key ingredient of a gel present in hydraulic fracturing fluid.
“You have to be ready for everyday occurrences like that,” Gilbert says. “It’s not just people coming in to open a business account. They have a broader perspective on how they’re going to operate the business.”
Elad Granot says he believes putting the word “global” in front of an MBA program won’t even be necessary in time.
The director of CSU’s Global AMBA, as well as the university’s other MBA programs, says business has become global by default. The name of CSU’s program was meant to enforce that fact as well as attract students.
“It was to communicate what we already know in actuality and in practice to be a reality — that business and global are one in the same,” Granot says. “An MBA [program] that strives to be relevant, that strives to attract students and engage alumni, has to be global in its essence. It has to have global in much more than its name. It has to be an integral part of its curriculum.”
Aside from the international business concentration in all of the class work, the “global” part of the accelerated CSU program includes an 8- to 10-day study tour abroad. But before any trips are set, student destinations must by approved by Granot and other professors.
“One of the things we try to do is visit and learn about companies that are from [Northeast Ohio] that do business abroad, as well as [foreign companies in the cities we visit] that do business here in Cleveland,” he says.
Recent study tours, which are included as part of tuition pricing, have traveled to Paris, London, Barcelona, Helsinki and Copenhagen, and a trip to Italy is planned for the spring.
Granot says the majority of students in the Global AMBA program are recent business grads, but adds that he’s also seeing a growing number of students with full-time jobs whose employers are supporting them by paying part or all of the cost of tuition.
“They are getting an employee that is management material,” Granot says. “When you have an MBA from a school like ours, you have a solid understanding of all the disciplines of business. If you are in engineering and you got your MBA, your boss now knows that you understand accounting, marketing and finance. You understand supply chain and operations. You are ready for the next step.”
A 2012 Graduate Management Admission Council survey found that 57 percent of MBA graduates saw themselves leading people. It also found that employers’ most desired job trait for 2012 hires was leadership. The same survey also found that 62 percent of all graduate management students seeking employment in 2012 had received or accepted a job offer at the time of the survey.
Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management will begin offering a Global MBA starting in the fall.
The program is a full-time, two-year MBA that’s built around a partnership with Tongji University’s School of Economics in Shanghai, China and Xavier Labour Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, India. Both schools are held in as high regard in their countries as Weatherhead is in the U.S., according to Simon Peck, the program’s director.
“It’s quite common for MBA programs to want to include some international global management as part of their curriculum,” he says. “And it’s common for programs to spend a week abroad as part of an international management class. What we are doing here is taking it to the next level by actually living and working on company projects in these places for a semester.”
The program will have 60 students — 20 from each participating school, according to Peck. The students will be taught together and mixed into teams for special projects. Starting at the Tongji University in the fall, the students will spend a semester at each school before returning to their home school for the final semester.
Peck says that although there are plenty of small, medium and large businesses in Northeast Ohio, the most dramatic economic growth moving into the future will come from other countries.
“It’s going to come from those parts of the world that are growing 8 to 10 percent per annum,” he says. “That inevitably means interacting with people in India or China.”
As of December 2012, Weatherhead was still accepting applications for its program, so Peck couldn’t offer specific details about enrollment, but he shared his initial thoughts on who might benefit most from it
“My thinking was it would be a slightly younger student than our traditional MBA program — somebody without strong family commitments,” Peck says. “What seems to characterize those interested in the program is almost a sense of adventure.”
If Case Western Reserve University’s two-year program or Cleveland State University’s 12-month option isn’t a fit, Youngstown State University offers a less intense way to immerse yourself in the global economy while earning your MBA.
“Students can do international business as one of their concentrations,” explains Bruce Keillor, director of the Williamson Center for International Business at YSU. “They’re able to take two electives where we give them the opportunity to do those six credits internationally.” For example, a student would take three credits of course work outside of the country and then three more credits for an international consulting project.
The international trips in the past have included an emerging-market trip to India, an entrepreneurship trip to Ireland and a four-week program in London, according to Keillor.
“It’s all well and good to give people the traditional MBA,” he says. “Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that. But we like to think our students come out in a better position to either move up within their organization or get a better job. We’re also giving them skills that they’re really going to need.”
One Northeast Ohio company that does its share of international business is Sherwin-Williams, and although the company doesn’t formally recruit MBAs with a global concentration, Chuck Hedberg, vice president of human resources for the firm’s global finishes group, says it’s a definite plus.
“It brings great value,” he says. “Even if you don’t secure a job directly in a global entity after graduation, just simply immersing yourself from a cultural aspect … that goes a long way to help you in a role here in the U.S. We have great institutions here in Ohio, and if they’re pushing that type of curriculum, I think [prospective students] should be encouraged to check it out.”
For KeyBank’s John Gilbert, choosing to take the Global AMBA at CSU was all about timing and cost.
“It came down to a return on investment,” he says. “I looked at the cost per credit hour of the CSU program versus other programs and I couldn’t justify the difference. Dollar for dollar, I think the CSU program is phenomenal.”
Besides getting the job at KeyBank, Gilbert also recently opened a CrossFit affiliate in Medina. He credits his experience in the MBA program for empowering him to open the gym.
“I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug,” he says. “But I had been so intimidated by things that I’ve never done. I’ve never done accounting or marketing. So to be confident enough that I know how the accounting should look, I know how marketing works, and I know from a global perspective that there’s a lower barrier to entry for this particular business I started — it totally gave me a sense of power that I could do it.”