From Race Tracks to Board Rooms… was an MBA worth it?

Over a series of articles, I will explore “between the lines” of my MBA journey, how I went from track side at Formula 1 races to inside Boardrooms as a Management Consultant, whether my MBA helped, and ‘was it all worth it?’.

“Why did you decide to do an MBA?”, Michael asked me… “I thought I knew, now I’m not so sure”, I replied.

There is so much hype about MBAs. Equally there is so much hype about why not to do them. Is it worth the investment? What is the investment? Perhaps you have already been through all of those thoughts, have actually enrolled in an MBA, are a few subjects into your program, and find yourself asking those same questions of yourself again… so did I.

We live in a complex landscape, it is a minefield to navigate and decide whether an MBA is worth it and if so, which one. I am not here to dispute the claims of those who have made it without an MBA. In fact, quite the opposite. I admire and follow many self-made entrepreneurs for their tenacity and ability to execute. I am also super grateful that I am able to consider further education at all, this is a privilege that I am so mindful of.

I am not going to debate the merits of different programs. I’ll leave that to you to decide. I’m not even going to give you a list of “Five things to consider if an MBA is for you!” or “A step-by-step road map for MBA success”. Rather, I hope that by sharing my experience with you I might shed some light on what you might expect if you are considering the journey, or what you could gain from it.

Alternatively, perhaps you’ll decide it’s not for you – that’s fine too.

Between the lines

I refer a lot to “the journey”. That’s because for me, the ride to get to graduation was just as much fun and valuable as the end outcome. For me, the journey was all about the “between the lines”. It is the non-tangibles of tackling my program that made the biggest impact on me. It is from those experiences that I have grown and developed both personally and professionally. I probably did it part consciously, part subconsciously. Definitely while learning a lot about myself, my limits and the world around me. Sure, there’s other ways to do that too. Like travel or volunteering for a social cause. I am a fan of all of these and continual education, whatever form that might take.

Will an MBA give you all the answers? No. Will it guarantee you the career you want? Perchance. Will you make a large jump in earnings? Possibly. Did it make an impact on my life? Absolutely.

Race tracks to Boardrooms

At the start of my MBA journey my uniform was a radio set, ear plugs, and cargo pants, standing track side of Formula 1 races. I worked in motor sport, for the most part in the Operations and Logistics side of races. More specifically, anything that was on the race track that was not a race car was a focus of mine. How to get it to the track, around the track or off the track so that no one noticed and the show would go on was part of my jigsaw. I’m the guy that when the green lights would go at the start of the race would be more fixated on the bright orange corners of the race track to see if the kerbs were being damaged, than on the race cars. Friends would ask how was the race, and I would reply, “I have no idea, how did Ricciardo go?”.

During my MBA, my uniform switched to a suit, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations inside corporate offices across Australia. I had made the move to Management Consulting focused on strategy execution for large enterprise and government agencies. The pieces in my jigsaw were now procurement and supplier optimisation, change management, target operating models and enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations.

It is fair to say that I was very lucky to have had amazing career and education experiences over the journey. I am grateful for the opportunities, though getting there definitely took some self-reflection.

You KNOW how the world works, right?

My class mates’ views were valid and at times very challenging of my own. This brought lively debate, learning and growth. I met people who had grown up as a single child; had left war torn countries; played professional sport; closed multiple million dollar deals; or had never seen an accounting balance sheet but saved people’s lives in hospitals every day.

Mostly, my program afforded me the opportunity to reflect upon my own experiences and views on the world, and have them challenged. Sometimes this was confronting.

You “know” how the world “works”, you just “know” right? You’ve always known your perspective on the world and the way you think it should tick. It’s confronting then to have that challenged by an equally valid, yet opposing view. What’s my view on employee relations; immigration; human rights; boarder control; poverty; the role of business in these issues and the world; ethical marketing; the role of government in business, their role in the community; does the end justify the means…?

What did I do in those situations? I sat calmly and took it all in… did I really? Of course, not! We all like to think we do. It’s not until we are actually in that situation do we know how we will react. At times, I would be very animated and not sit calmly at all, other times the opposing view would literally stop me while I considered how I felt.

There were some very heated debates over the duration of my program, from war to politics, sport, business approaches, and of course assignments. Some ended in consensus, some still haven’t ended… sometimes I reflect and think some of our debates were not too different to some of the polarisation we see today across the world.

I entered the MBA because I thought that in the sports industry we could be doing the business of sport better. I thought there was a lot to learn from the corporate world. I just wasn’t sure what that was. Some of my classmates had a “map” and “the compass” and knew their bearings in their program, career and life. Others had a map and threw it out part way through (I think this was me), whilst others didn’t believe in maps. It actually didn’t matter which you were, your views were valid.

I wasn’t entirely sure where my journey would take me and whilst I was passionate about the sports industry and felt my future was there, I was also open to new experiences and points of view, whatever they might be.

I knew I would be challenged by new learning and people, I just wasn’t sure what or who that would look like.

In my next discussion, I will explore how I made my switch from track side to Boardrooms. For more updates follow me on LinkedIn.


About the Author

Aaron YEAK is a highly motivated professional with a passion for business, social entrepreneurship and travel. He completed his MBA at the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Business School in 2016 and is currently writing a book about his experience. He has extensive professional experience across sports administration, event management, and management consulting, covering fitness, motor sport, retail, energy and utilities, logistics, construction and health care. Aaron believes in the global influence of this generation to create positive change and impact via social enterprise, business and the values of sport.

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Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (rgcmm.com.au).