What Does It Take To Be The Best At A Top Business School?

WorkCover executive Melanie Stojanovic, who achieved a 6.92 GPA for her MBA at University of Queensland.

WorkCover Executive Melanie Stojanovic began a journey in 2016 to build for herself a better head for business; what she ended up achieving even surprised her.

After studying a Master of Business Administration at the University of Queensland for two years, Stojanovic not only earned her qualification and a powerful network of contacts but also found herself with the 2017 UQ MBA Overall Excellence Award for the highest GPA of her cohort.

She said that achieving an award-worthy GPA, which ended up at 6.92 (on a scale of 1-7), was never the ultimate goal of her studies.

“I didn’t set out to get top marks, I literally set out to do my best and get the absolute most out the degree,” she said. “I’d sworn off ever studying again, but something clicked overnight and I realised that I had this massive gap in business acumen.

“I felt like in order to move up in more senior positions I didn’t have the necessary ‘business background’. I wasn’t doing it for the piece of paper … I did it because there was this gap in knowledge and I was keen to fill it,” she said.

After starting her career as a Case Manager with WorkCover Queensland (a government-owned statutory body that provides workers’ compensation insurance) she has steadily climbed the ranks of the business and is now leading the Small and New Business segment.

While having gained valuable experience and knowledge from a host of mentors she knew she had to take the step if she was to continue her development as a leader.

“I wanted to broaden my exposure and the MBA was the way to do it,” she said.

In 2016 she enrolled in the highly-awarded MBA program at UQ, where she was intent on seeing “how other people do it” and attaining a new perspective on management and leadership.

“I enjoyed the fact that UQ’s MBA program was generalised with an exposure to everything, meaning I didn’t have to specialise in anything and could keep my education and knowledge-base quite broad.

“I also liked the delivery of the program and the freedom to choose how I studied – I could do weekends, I could night or I could do intensives during the week,” she said.

One of the most valuable rewards from her MBA experience, aside from the education and newfound business knowledge, was the ability to make strong and lasting contact.

“The networks are just amazing,” Stojanovic said.

“The people I’ve made friends with during my studies are CEOs and general managers multinational companies, and you just think, ‘wow I’m in the same class as you’.

“For me, half of the benefit was the face to face networking – the people you talk to, hearing other people’s ideas and ways of thinking and those other perspectives.”

The recipe for a top student

With a GPA of 6.92 of a possible 7, Stojanovic’s result reflected an academic record of top marks in almost every single subject she took.

“I was not expecting top marks (sevens) … and I think that attitude helped – I didn’t set out just to get through, I set out to do my best.”

The secret to achieving the best result possible while studying an MBA, according to Stojanovic, is to be strategic about the material and to enter each class with an ‘empty cup’ – a head ready to be filled, unburdened by old experience.

“You don’t have to read everything, you just have to listen to lecturers, hear what it is they want you to learn from them, and pay attention to the little nuances,” she said.

“Don’t go in there thinking you need to read every paper – the more you can read the better, but it’s about being efficient and smart with the material.

“During ‘leading people and teams’, I think I had an unconscious attitude of ‘I do this for a living’, so I’ll be OK. During the final exam I scraped through, having thought there was no need to study,” she said.

“You’ve got to come in with a fresh set of eyes and not bring your biases and preconceived ideas with you. I think that stops you from learning.”

Ben Ready
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).