I am starting this final blog post on a plane from Italy to California, ready for my post-MBA job at Netflix after a long summer vacation. It’s unreal to think that two years at Stanford already flew by. At the same time, I feel glad to go back to the “real world” (and earning a salary again!).
I wish that I had found more time to write on this blog, but the experience at Stanford was intense. However, I hope that I managed to summarize some useful information, in particular for future applicants and new admits. Here are some final reflections on my experience.
Was the MBA worth it? When I first considered the idea of an MBA, I created a spreadsheet and several scenarios to calculate the potential ROI, payback period, etc. Although that calculation gave me some confidence at the time, I realize that the reasoning was flawed. Yes, my post-MBA starting salary has increased significantly compared to 2015, and at the time I could have not anticipated the financial aid, and the scholarship that I won, which decreased the tuition cost substantially. However, in a few years I won’t be able to ascertain the causality of my enhanced skills or expanded network on my career progress. Besides, I won’t be able to estimate how much I could have earned without an MBA. The impact of an MBA is impossible to measure, without a “parallel universe”. Was it a wise investment? I will never know.
If I switch from a financial to a human level, and evaluate the MBA experience more holistically, the answer to the question is a strong “yes”. I could have spent two years of my life in my previous job in London. I could have changed job or city at most. Rather, I had the chance of getting to know amazing human beings from all over the world, with the most varied life stories and work experiences; I got exposure to leading professionals in several industries (from Eric Schmidt and Evan Spiegel to Richard Plepler, to name a few); I had the opportunity to reflect on my values, passions, ambitions, and how I envision my life going forward. As a life experience, the MBA at Stanford was the best I have ever had.
What did I learn? I could make a list of all the topics I studied (yes, I know Operations’ queueing theory now) but it is really not the focus of what I learnt. A GSB professor once told us that in his mind the MBA is like “improving fluency in a language”. There are various components to it (e.g. grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.) but speaking the language requires bringing all these together in a concerted effort. The “language” analogy obviously refers to making different kinds of managerial decisions in conditions of uncertainty. I feel more equipped to go back to the workplace and face whatever challenge may come, be it strategic, financial, analytical, interpersonal. I know that I would have the intellectual and emotional resources to deal with the situation and, as importantly, to keep learning.
The MBA was also beneficial in two more aspects. First, it was humbling to be surrounded by classmates who were experts in areas/industries that I know little to nothing about. It opened my eyes on everything that I don’t know. However, if one day I need some knowledge or advice, I know that I can make a phone call and rely on a friend who would be happy to help me.
Furthermore, all “soft-skills” courses I took at Stanford (Strategic Communication, Interpersonal Dynamics, Leadership Labs, Organizational Behavior, Winning Writing) were invaluable in building my self-awareness. Compared to two years ago, I know much better how to build on my strengths and improve my weaknesses. I have a deeper understanding of the impact of my personality and my actions on others, and I feel that I am able to “change style” more easily.
Did a Stanford MBA help me get where I wanted professionally? As far as my first post-MBA job, absolutely yes. After six years in the music industry, I planned to advance my career in the wider entertainment industry. I could not be happier with my job at Netflix. The quality of my future colleagues, which I witnessed during my summer internship last year, is outstanding and I am certain that I could not have got here without an MBA from Stanford or another top institution.
As to how the MBA will help in the development of my career… we shall see. In any case, I am positive that the network of classmates and alumni will be an incredible value added, whatever future career decisions I will face. I already witnessed first-hand the responsiveness and kindness of GSB alumni, at any level of seniority, and I will strive to do the same.
What was the best part of the MBA? Easy answer: getting to know my incredible classmates. Of course, bonding with 400 people in two years is impossible, but I feel that I created a lot of deep connections that will continue for the rest of my life. All in all, most of my learnings came from interacting with my classmates in projects, class discussions (not to mention Touchy-Feely!), club activities and small group dinners. The conversations became deeper and deeper, moving from the initial “baseball stats” (“what did you do before business school”?) to the reasons for our interests, motivations, fears and ambitions. And, it goes without saying, we had a lot of fun as well!
My most favorite standalone experience was the Global Study Trip (GST) to Italy that I led in the second year with three fantastic classmates. We led 26 peers and one Stanford professor through a 9-day journey in my country, visiting several companies around a well-defined team. It was a dream-like experience: the possibility of showing the best that Italy has to offer to my classmates, the unparalleled access that Stanford gave us to top business executives (one of many examples: we met the Chairman of Barilla, 4th generation of the family business which runs the largest pasta-maker in the world, and we visited their pasta production factory in Parma), and the fantastic bonds I created with the trip participants. It was also a complex project to pull together. In a year of work, I got significant practice in creating a high-performing leadership team, establishing a shared vision, resolving interpersonal conflicts and… making everyone on the trip happy!
Was the experience flawless? As anything else in life, it obviously had some flaws. The good thing is that these flaws were minor compared to the greatness of the overall experience. Academically, some classes during the first years were not up to my expectations, although the choice of an appropriate level (base, accelerated, advanced) helped. Socially, I sometimes did not feel at ease with the constant flow of parties with large crowds, loud Top 40 music and alcohol – and the peer pressure that comes with it. As an introvert, I prefer one-on-one interactions or small social settings to establish and deepen relationships. However, this did not prevent me from easily finding my own niche and making a lot of great friends. Also, one of the big practical lessons of the MBA was learning to say “no” and prioritize what was important to me, being true to myself.
What would I do differently? I am overall glad of my experience and I have no deep regrets. However, with hindsight, I wish I had spent more time getting to know Professors / Lecturers. I met in class some amazing human beings, with so much expertise to offer and always available to interactions with students. My experience as a Teaching Assistant for the awesome class “Leadership in the Entertainment Industry”, which started at the beginning of the second year, made me realize how much I had missed out on this front. I enjoyed working with and spending time with the fantastic lecturer in the class, and I will cherish this relationship for years to come. In the last few quarters I made a more conscious efforts to create stronger relationships, in particular with experts in my areas of interest. However, I wish I had done more and this would be my strongest advice to anyone starting the GSB.
If you are considering applying or have been admitted to Stanford GSB, please feel free to reach out and – time allowing – I am happy to share more about my experience (but, let me be clear, I will never act as an admission consultant!).
Thanks for reading my thoughts over this intense two years and a half. I loved my time at Stanford GSB and I am glad I shared some of this experience on this space. I’d like to close with my favorite latin expression: ad maiora… towards greater things!