I’m in retail, is an MBA really worth it?

businessman hand draws target customers diagram on white boardTo answer this question, we need to look to both the past and future of retail.

The retail industry has traditionally placed more emphasis on experience than on education. In fact, many of the most highly regarded figures in Australian retail credit their success to hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit –  street smarts rather than book smarts.

But over the past couple of decades, the retail game has fundamentally changed. The introduction of new technologies, data analytics and systems across every aspect of retail from sales and merchandise planning through to marketing and e-commerce has transformed the way businesses operate and compete on what is now a global stage.

With the conversation in retail now shifting from ‘how challenging it is to compete with international brands’ to ‘embracing change and challenging the status quo to stay ahead’, retailer opinions on post graduate education including completing an MBA, are changing.  As the industry becomes increasingly competitive and strategic, having the right combination of experienced and qualified talent is the focus.

It all depends on your timing

As with most things in life, the benefits of an MBA in retail all comes down to timing.  Ask yourself – where are you at in your career and where do you want that next move to take you?

In retail, an MBA or other post graduate qualification offers only marginal competitive advantage to those in mid-level to senior operational and commercial roles, but becomes far more attractive to employers when competing for executive roles may require strategic thinking or a focus on transformational change. By comparison, in other industries an MBA is more a ‘rite of passage’ from mid-level to senior management and almost an expectation at the c-suite.

and your motivations

Completing an MBA requires a significant investment of both time and money. Deciding whether or not an MBA is worth the investment is a very individual decision, and the answer will vary depending on the motivations for studying an MBA in the first place. But in the end, the benefits do come down to how you use it in your career.

There are two key reasons for studying an MBA that we regularly hear from senior retail professionals, which can’t always be quantified in monetary terms:

  1. Personal development

The reality is, for most people in retail an MBA or other post graduate qualification is still more a ‘nice to have rather than a ‘must have’, but this mindset is starting to shift as retailers focus efforts on gaining strategic advantage on the global stage.

An MBA or other post graduate qualification can provide an invaluable opportunity for individuals looking to develop their strategic thinking and business acumen.

  1. Professional development

Although an MBA qualification is far less common in retail than in other industries, a growing number of retail executives are seeing an MBA as the way to get an edge on their peers, especially in light of the state of flux that the retail industry finds itself in as a result of the restructures and acquisitions taking place.

For roles that are strategic in nature, these three letters can make a difference to your employability.  Particularly, if your employer has experienced the benefits of completing an MBA themselves. It is often these executives who are the greatest advocates of the program.

For those working in larger corporates structures, an MBA can ‘connect the dots’ and open doors to more strategic opportunities. Less so, in the fashion and SME market, but the qualification does say to an employer ‘I am committed to my professional development’.

but in the end its the strategic imperative that will be the ultimate driver.

So no matter which side of the fence you sit on, favouring life experience or education, there is no denying that an MBA is a strategic tool in the senior retail professional’s armoury; a valued complement to years of experience on the shop floor.

Richard Wynn is managing partner at FutureYou Executive Recruitment and can be contacted at richardwynn@future-you.com.au or 0448 416 172.

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1 comment

  1. Bruno posted on November 8, 2016

    Might be of use if your role is admin, but if you're involved in the sales process I highly doubt it. Regardless of what school it comes from.

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