MBA Value Extends Far Beyond Professional Aspirations

Ron Fong MBA 17The downturn of applicants for MBA programs has led some graduate schools of management to streamline their curriculums or contemplate eliminating the program altogether. I recently completed my MBA from UC Davis. I appreciate some of the concerns debating the degree’s value from a professional standpoint. However, it has been a boon for me as a father.

When I began the program three years ago, I was 51 years old with three sons, two of whom were in college. At that point, I was entrenched as an academic family physician. My sons had little interest in the healthcare fields, but would dutifully listen to the accounts of my work day. Then I joined my sons as a college student, and they viewed me as a fellow sojourner along the path of learning and discovery. Now, my perspectives had the air of contemporary authenticity as opposed to one of anachronistic authority.      

The MBA experience sustained my relevance as a father in their eyes. My paternal responsibilities had evolved from caretaker and provider to mentor for men seeking their place in the working world. My eldest son is pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Texas MD Anderson. His initially envisioned developing new cancer drugs by spending long hours at the lab bench, often in solitude. Before the MBA program, I would have commiserated with him based on my meager undergraduate research experience three decades earlier. Drawing from my venture capital class, we examined his clarity of purpose and its corresponding scope and scale. We discussed who would reap the fruits of his work and how that would impact his sense of fulfillment. Subsequently, he reimagined himself from molecule designer to company founder.

My capstone MBA project provided him with further guidance. The project evaluated health IT incubators at academic centers. I forwarded my University of Texas contact to him. He attended sessions of VC funding rounds and introduced himself to some of the investors. Heeding their recommendations, he enrolled for classes at Rice University’s business school in the spring, a direction that he didn’t foresee when he embarked on his journey to be a researcher. Recently, my son was charged by his principal investigator to develop a business plan for their pursuits. He relayed his confidence in its execution to me since he was cognizant of my interest in sharing the MBA experience.  

My middle son earned a degree in civil engineering in June. After working at his first job for six months, he was recruited by another firm. He asked for my insight regarding the interview process, with an emphasis on salary negotiation. Before reviewing the mechanics of the interview, I prioritized examining the value of a position, not its compensation. Would this offer align with his calling and the narrative of his life? I passed along discussions from my negotiations class on the value of a long-term relationship with a supervisor who would serve as a mentor. I noted that the founder of the company, who contacted him, could provide insight on entrepreneurship and the stewardship of meeting payroll for those who chose to work for you. These interpersonal lessons were stressed throughout my MBA classes. Because of my familiarity with these business issues, our conversation settled into the comfortable cadence of the ones we had when we played catch years prior.  

My youngest son began college during the last year of my MBA studies. I found it challenging to ask about his future since his major was music and not a STEM field. I have no musical talent and do not keep up with current artists. However, on our drives home from his classes, I found some common ground by referring to my technology and competitive strategy class. In that class, we discussed Taylor Swift’s letter to Apple and how artists are seeking to control their content in the current market. Drawing parallels to my eldest son’s work, we talked about managing distribution points for one’s creations. My youngest son expanded his thinking from arranging a score to coordinating a network.      

After these conversations with my sons, I realized the value of the UC Davis MBA program extended far beyond my professional aspirations and allowed me to grow as a father. By working with professionals from Generations X and Y, I was able to gain insight into my sons’ worldview and how their perspectives were shaped as working men. A benefit of earning my MBA has been the increasing frequency of my sons asking “Dad, what do you think about…?”  


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