Is an MBA worthwhile?

I have been running my business for the past four years, and employ 20 staff. I want the business to continue growing, but I am not sure that I have the necessary skills to do this. I have been considering attending a course, such as an MBA, to improve my capabilities, but are these worth the effort? Also, how should I prepare my business for the period when I am studying?

A. Alysoun Stewart of Grant Thornton writes:

These kind of growing pains are something every business experiences as it develops. Dealing with the management and organisational implications of growth is always the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs, and we work with many businesses, helping them over what often feels like a huge brick wall.

As you have recognised, the next phase of growth requires very different leadership and management skills. The organisation needs to change from being relatively informal to more centralised, with clear functional responsibilities. The management style will become more directive rather than individualistic, and there will be an increased focus on operational efficiencies and developing the processes to incentivise and monitor performance rather than relying on the enthusiasm of individual employees.


Having the necessary skills to take the business forward is not the issue, it is whether you have the appetite and basic aptitude to do so – skills can be trained, aptitude cannot. Many entrepreneurs hand over leadership of their businesses to someone else at this stage, as dealing with the issues in a larger business is just not ‘their bag’.

There are lots of courses available from MBAs to executive and business growth programmes. They are worth the effort and cost if you choose a course that majors on the areas where you see gaps in your skills.

Undertaking such a course is, in itself, good discipline. First, it forces you to spend time working on the business rather than in it. Second, you need to ensure that the ship will be in safe hands during your absence from day-to-day management, and this means taking first steps in the development of the organisational structure by placing functional responsibilities on your senior managers. Think through the areas of the business for which you currently take full responsibility, articulate the performance criteria you apply to each area, consider the skills of your senior employees, allocate the management responsibility to senior employees in the areas to which they are best suited, and communicate clearly what you expect of them and how their performance will be measured.

However, this is not the only solution. Many entrepreneurs choose to work with someone from outside the business who has ‘been there and done that’, and, therefore, has the direct experience to help them and their business. The ongoing relationship with this ‘non-exec/mentor’ can add enormous value and may be the key that unlocks the potential of the individual and their business.

Alysoun Stewart is director of commercial and strategic services at Grant Thornton, the leading global accounting, tax and business advisory firm.


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