What if your career began with admission (not after graduation)? – MBA in Action

What if indeed this was the case, that you considered the beginning of your career as your admission into an MBA program not when you graduate or get a job offer? I am not sure what the implications might be yet. I do wonder if this question is one that the W.P. Carey School of business has set up for us (the world) with its Forward Focus Scholarship.


I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine related to this topic – give it a paragraph or two and it will become clear. We were discussing the challenge he was facing in managing a committee of volunteers. These are former business leaders who have pledged their time and resources to do knowledge work for the betterment of an organization. However, the bickering and gridlock were taking a toll on the agility of the organization as well as the execution of ideas if any execution at all. I came up with a theory that “Volunteers argue adamantly because they believe in the purity of their intentions. They believe their suggestions should be taken seriously based on their founding on good-will and not being compensated. What if they received something for their services.” he gave it some thought and found it an interesting theory. That’s when I told him about my early days at W.P. Carey.


When we had a group of people come together for a project and I was one of them, we had a tough time parsing out suggestions for execution. Given the goodwill of each member and good intentions as well as a desire to learn, everyone’s suggestion was deemed equally important, if not more important by the person suggesting. It was frustrating because I believed the same as well; so I was part of the problem if there was any. It’s only when I stepped back and thought about the situation from another angle that I relaxed and let go at times. The school has invested a full scholarship in me. It is a fellowship and I am being paid to learn. In other words, I am an employee. The next time we had a meeting I approached it like an employee. Forgetting intentions I sought to understand and execute. Yes, learning is embedded in the process and it is embedded in the results so that is covered. Thinking as an employee allowed me to think of moving the team forward and not moving my suggestions forward. Moving the team forward moves the company forward if you are an employee. (Please bear with me, this is not meant to reflect the thoughts of those who came up with the idea of this wonderful fellowship at all, simply my take on it.)

This shift in my behavior led me to wonder: What does an MBA mean to me if I am being paid to go through it and learn? The answer: my career has already begun. In fact, it began when I was admitted into this wonderful school. But what kind of career is it? This questions and its friends did the hokey pokey in my head for weeks as I thought about Forward Focus thinking and Forward Focus leading as subsets of the Forward Focus Scholarship.


By the name itself, the Forward Focus Fellowship/Scholarship is meant to allow students to focus on the future. A future that is now volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The skills students are meant to build are not the set-in-stone type of skills, but the dance moves which can be adapted to any genre that the band of the future may choose to play. So, when does your career start when your target job may be eliminated by innovations in the next 2 years? When does your career start when a new industry which no one ever imagined crops up half a year before graduation? When does your career start when new departments merge and once unrelated tasks converge as markets make tectonic shifts and firms compete?


I believe these are some of the Forward Focus questions.


And to me, the answer is, my career began when I was admitted into the MBA program. For me, this career is about building a brand of transformational leadership and excellence for myself. This may sound vague and yet I am convinced it is the foundation for the kind of flexibility that those who intend on defining and conquering the future require. As long as humans are alive they will relate and those who relate well – transformational leaders – will excel. And as long as work exists, excellence in execution, process and change management etc, will be valued. And so in a few words, I encapsulate the people and the tasks. In a few words, I set my goal as someone whose career has already begun.


And if indeed my career has already begun then I will go through my MBA emphasizing every experience and interaction I have. I will fall into the broader organizational goal of making business personal. I won’t wait for graduation to make an impact as an entrepreneur or employee but I will begin now. And I will find conversations with potential employers easy and authentic because I am not a student looking for a job/internship: I am on a career path which has already begun – and my time here will have a track record – not only a GPA.

Allen Matsika

Born and raised in the small town in the land of milk and honey in south central Africa, I moved to the USA to study philosophy. The hope was to understand where humanity had lost its way. I took a historical perspective on the trajectory of western thought and was especially struck by Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. The memorable description of human nature in that book contributed greatly to my understanding of the human condition.

Life is a misery to be endured until we die. Even those with terminal illnesses find times of respite and laugh and enjoy their lives. So too is mortality a terminal illness. We will all die, I for one am glad this is so. But before that day I will define myself, I will not go without giving everything I have got, and I will love with all my heart.

I am proud to be an Afropolitan; a world citizen of African descend. I am called Allen and I love writing, eating, and singing in the shower!

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