Earning your executive MBA can seem like an overwhelming proposition. Between work and family obligations, you may feel it’s impossible to do much else, but doing so can offer great rewards, say Tim McCarthy, president and CEO of iWalk, a company that develops and manufactures robotic artificial limbs for lower limb amputees.
“My advice is, don’t wait,” says McCarthy, a graduate of UCLA Anderson’s executive MBA program. “As your career and family commitments expand over time, your available free time decreases. There is never the ‘perfect’ time to add an MBA to the equation. Once you have made the decision that earning your MBA is an important goal, you have to go for it.”
Smart Business spoke with McCarthy about how to choose the right program for your needs and how the experience will open doors and change the way you think.
How did an executive MBA help you reach your goals?
I set a personal goal of earning my MBA soon after completing my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, each time I was motivated enough to begin the application process and enroll, I was distracted by other commitments and forced to stop and re-prioritize.
Finally, in 2005, I found a time when it made sense for both my family and the company I was working for at the time to make the commitment. They both encouraged me to enroll, and with their support over the two years, I was able to check this important goal off my personal to-do list.
Professionally speaking, I had a long-standing goal to become the CEO of a medical device company with a burgeoning life-changing technology. Less than 14 months after earning my degree at UCLA, I was hired as the CEO of iWalk, an advanced bionics company who has developed proprietary robotic muscle and tendon solutions for lower-limb amputees.
I’ve always believed that the best measure of any degree is when that degree opens at least one door for you professionally. My MBA played a critical role in elevating me from a vice president of sales and marketing to my current CEO position. Without this degree, the door may have never been open for me.
What was it like going through the program?
Adding a top-rated MBA program to an already full plate is not an easy undertaking, and doing so should not be taken lightly, especially if you want to get the most out of your learning experience. Even though my employer encouraged me to enroll, they did not lessen the performance expectations of my position within the organization.
Successfully balancing family commitments and work obligations while earning my MBA was one of the toughest, yet one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. It isn’t easy, but with a supportive network you do find a way.
Why did you choose this program?
The EMBA program at UCLA offered me the right combination of scheduling and location convenience, research and teaching excellence, appropriate peer-to-peer learning with a general management/quantitative focus, all within a top-rated brand.
As an MBA candidate, make a list of what’s important to you, and then rate potential programs according to those criteria. Looking back, there’s no doubt that I chose the right program for me because it offered the key elements which were most important for me to achieve all my goals.
How have you drawn on former classmates to succeed?
I had never worked for a venture-backed company prior to my current role, and I had no real experience in raising capital. So during our most recent fundraising, I called on three classmates with startup and venture capital experience for input on my investment deck. With their assistance, we successfully closed a substantial Series C round in 2010, which will allow us to achieve our near-term commercial goals.
I tapped into that alumni network, not in the most traditional manner from the standpoint of official programs offered by the school, but I have certainly taken the fullest advantage of the people I met while there and tapped them for expertise in their functional fields.
What experiences did you have in the classroom that you’ve been able to translate to the workplace?
It had been almost 20 years since I sat in a classroom. And the further you separate from current best business practices and science, the more instinctual of a manager you become, especially if you’ve spent your entire career in one specialty. Because I had this very specific experience and had been successful, I’d almost relied entirely on my instincts, and managing on instinct alone can be very dangerous as your responsibilities are broadened beyond your functional vertices.
The program taught me to think more critically, analytically and cross-functionally. It taught me to use current and more complex data analysis tools to validate my assumptions and instincts. It taught me how to leverage teams of functional experts to further validate strategic initiatives across the entire organization.
Finally, the most important lesson I learned was a reinforcement of prior lessons. The program forces you into situations where you must work with people who are not like you, be that functionally, culturally or otherwise. Diversity of thought is critical to both a robust learning experience and to the success of an organization.
UCLA provided me the tools to further sharpen that very important understanding: success in life comes down to working and interacting effectively with a broad spectrum of people.
Timothy McCarthy is president and CEO of iWalk. Reach him at (949) 683-6382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.