MBAs and Entrepreneurship: Marcus Hunter examines

Mr. Marcus Hunter, Global Project Executive for IBM and Michigan MBA, analyzes the reasonings why many MBAs dismiss the entrepreneurial route.

MBA Pundit: Why do you think many MBAs decided against going the entrepreneurial route after obtaining the degree?

Hunter: There are numerous factors involved, but here are some principal reasons I believe. First, given the significant investment of capital and time required to achieve the MBA, most graduates are looking for a high return with limited risk. In most cases, established corporate positions in consulting, finance, marketing, etc. provide this anticipated return. Second, many people pursue their MBA as a point of leverage in their corporate career progression, either to accelerate their progress in their current position, or to change directions and try a different type of job while using the respected MBA credential as a means to deflect potentially limited experience in that industry or function. Conversely, entrepreneurs typically do not experience formal barriers to entry and are instead motivated by either a great idea, a perceived market opportunity that can be exploited or exhaustion with the corporate environment. In this case, getting an MBA could be perceived as an unnecessary obstacle to launching into entrepreneurship and might be better pursued once the venture has proven to be financial viable. Finally, I think there are clearly established paths with successful role models for pursuing an MBA While there must be countless real world examples, these don’t typically include high-profile examples of people pursuing an MBA specifically with the intent of becoming an entrepreneur. I think the fanciful perception remains that a successful entrepreneur can start with a smart idea while working out of the garage or that the entrepreneur can get started in his or her home office simply by taking some existing clients or specialized skills and strike off on one’s own with the hope of getting lucky – when this idea is romanticized, the MBA does not conveniently fit the picture.

MBA Pundit: Did you ever participate in any entrepreneurial classes at Michigan? If so, what did you think of the curriculum? Were there any differentiating qualities of the students that elected to take the class vs. those who wanted to stay in corporate America?

Hunter: Yes, I took a popular entrepreneurial class on writing business plans. It was one of my favorite classes. I thought Michigan had a very solid Entrepreneurial curriculum – there were not a great deal of offerings, but the professors were very sharp and engaging. As far as any differentiating qualities of students pursuing entrepreneurship vs. corporate, I did not see much if any. Perhaps the only thing was those current entrepreneurs had a more immediate application of the subject matter.

MBA Pundit: What improvements to the overall MBA curriculum would you suggest in order to produce successful entrepreneurs in America?

Hunter: I think the challenge here is that, since no two successful entrepreneurs are created in the same way, building a static curriculum to address what is by definition a flexible and sometimes amorphous career can miss the mark. I do think there are three components that would be valuable: 1) Teach the fundamentals – there is a core set of skills that most entrepreneurs will benefit from, whether its basic finance and accounting or building a business plan. These courses could build the foundation of the curriculum. 2) Offer concise, flexible course options – someone pursuing an MBA to become an entrepreneur may be turned off by too many required, lecture-style classes that may not seem applicable to their career goals. I would imagine entrepreneurs would want more control of their choices and look to pull together these courses in a varied, nonstandard way. And 3) Provide real world experience – I think the most attractive offering for an entrepreneur would be exposure to real-life examples of successful, as well as failed entrepreneurs, so that they may get the opportunity to explore in-depth what choices and decisions they made in their entrepreneurial ventures and the results that ensued.

MBA Pundit: As a man of color, do you think it is imperative that blacks and hispanics consider entrepreneurship? Or would you advise the corporate route? Why?

Hunter: Honestly, I think people should pursue that for which they have a passion. That said, I do think that blacks and hispanics face some challenges in launching an entrepreneurial career. Often times they have already worked extremely hard and overcome numerous obstacles and look at the MBA as a final component to achieving a level and status that can be considered having “made it”. In this situation, applying an MBA degree toward entrepreneurial pursuits may feel like starting over only to repeat many of the struggles required to be successful for a second time. Given this, entrepreneurship should definitely be considered when pursuing the MBA. Even if immediate post-graduation plans include a more common corporate route, you can begin to gain the breadth and depth of skills necessary to become a successful entrepreneur and, thus, be prepared to capitalize on opportunities to go it on your own when they present themselves.

Mr. Marcus Hunter is currently the Global Project Executive for IBM. Prior to this position, he leveraged an Economics degree from Columbia and an MBA from University of Michigan to secure management consulting positions with top firms, including the Gartner Group and Anderson Consulting (now renamed to Accenture). He was selected to speak on the topics “Managing Strategic Change” at the 2002 NBMBAA Conference and “Business Technology Trends: The Next Millenium” at the 1999 NBMBAA Conference. In addition to several board positions and organizational memberships, Hunter is a member of IBM’s Cole Charitable Giving Society. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and children.