My MBA 20 years on

I’ve just spent most of November in the North-East of England, in the magnificent cathedral city of Durham, where I started my MBA 20 years ago. While I’ve been back since then, this visit was for my class reunion weekend. After two decades, I was curious to see what becomes of an MBA graduate. How had we changed, how much were we the same, and what, if anything did that experience do for us?

We were a class of some 60 students from 21 different nations, coming together during a global recession. For the first time in modern corporate history, organisations were exercising massive redundancies. Like me, many were able to attend thanks to unanticipated windfalls. Others had been emancipated by the recent dissolution of communism in Eastern Europe. A lucky few were there on British Council scholarships.

With ages ranging from 21-55, our class was diverse in every conceivable way – a powerhouse for academic, professional and interpersonal development. For 18 months I’d worked with the Alumni team to locate our classmates. Despite the technological explosion since we completed the MBA, the inevitable name changes and geographic dispersal meant some classmates were missing in action.

While it was a life-changing year for me, it may have been 12 months of mixed emotions to others. Not all were interested in making the trip back to Durham. My sentimental journey was just a stepping stone in another classmate’s life. Reunions can be fraught at the best of times.

As the weekend got closer, numbers dropped off. Classmates who were keen initially, fell silent. Business trips came up, and family commitments made the journey difficult for others.

Kicking off the reunion over a few pints on Friday night, the 20 years dissipated in seconds. During the masterclasses the next day, it was like we were back in that lecture room again. Same posturing, glances and contagious laughs — along with the comradeship that accompanies a shared experience. For the younger classmates the MBA had been their entree to corporate life, and a transition into consulting for others. And for those with more work experience, the year offered consolidation, reflection, and affirmation of the next career step.

Whether it was the qualification or just all those years of experience, by 2013 we’d made great strides in our knowledge and expertise. Strangely, we seemed to have outgrown the MBA.

Although the learning takeaways would have been as disparate as our 60 classmates, that year had left an imprint. Regardless of our chosen pathways and career achievements, deep bonds and mutual respect had developed. While the coursework and dissertation provided the structure, it now seemed immaterial. For the relationship building alone, the MBA was priceless.


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