Dear Mentor:

To become an executive, should I get an MBA or a PhD?

I have aquestion that a lot of us have asked but never really gotton the answer to. How do you become an "excutive"??? I know that the probable answer will be something like "you nedd 50 years experiance, a lot of patience, and a little bit of luck". But I am talking about the educational side of it all. Say for example that I want to become the head of the networking department. I have been told (and I don't know if it is true or not) that you need a Ph.D in networking and Masters in bussiness association(MBA). Is this true? If not then what is the correct way of becoming an excutive?

Becoming an Executive, Jubail, Eastern Region, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Dear Becoming an Executive:

The easiest way to find an answer to your question is to learn from "How they did it." Let us start with examples of some well-known executives and their backgrounds:

  • Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft: A college drop out
  • Jack Welch, a legendary former CEO of General Electric (GE): A PhD in engineering
  • Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM: An MBA and former management consultant
  • Joe Forehand, CEO of Accenture (formerly, Andersen Consulting): MS in Industrial Engineering
A few observations are appropriate. There is no one single path to becoming a successful executive. Most successful executives reach the senior executive level well before they reach the age of 50; so, 50 years of experience is not a prerequisite. Most of them are motivated and driven for success. They are creative, smart, and hard working. They possess extra-ordinary people management skills; they are able to motivate and lead their people.

Higher education is not a prerequisite to success in business, but higher education does improve the probability of success. Education is a systematic mechanism for acquiring knowledge that would be helpful in your career. Education offers you the platform from which to launch your career, but managing the career - creating opportunities for progress and capitalizing on opportunities - is what individuals have to do to become successful. As the saying goes: Luck is nothing but hard work to create opportunities and then capitalizing on them. True, being lucky helps from time to time but, at the end of the day, an executive must deliver the results or be deemed a failure.

Most successful executives pursue a "fast track." That is, given whatever background, a successful executive progresses through his or her career at a significantly faster pace than his or her peers. A business executive "manages" business, for which one can follow a technical or management track. On a technical track, the management skills are acquired on-the-job. This person demonstrates success in a progression of challenging jobs and projects. An MBA, on the other hand, gives an individual the opportunity to acquire knowledge of management skills through a structured academic training program. An MBA does accelerate one's progress through management ranks.

In the end, it is what you can perform and demonstrate that determines your success. You do not necessarily need a PhD or an MBA. Degree(s) are helpful in getting your career started, but how your career progresses is entirely up to you as an individual. You have to earn the right to be successful, you can not demand it. There is no particular magic formula for success, other than being determined, focused, and hard working - demonstrating to others what you are capable of accomplishing.

The whole concept of iMahal Interviews is based on the fact that success has many destinations and each destination has many paths. You have to follow your very own path for your very own destination for success.

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