What’s next for me: Starting the Executive MBA journey

Photo by @khachiksimonian / Unsplash.com

I’ve worked in IT for almost three decades — I started young. So young in fact that I quit school perhaps a bit too early and abruptly. It never bothered or stopped me as I loved and still love what I do. I also realized that to become better as a techie I need to constantly seek for new challenges. This forced me to become more comfortable spending time in my non-comfort zones – standing in front of any sort and size of an audience; creating short and lengthy presentations; doing technical pre-sales; managing and leading people; delivering presentations in English and Finnish; writing books; trying to become better at what I do.

For the past 10 years I’ve been an entrepreneur. Or to put it more fittingly, I’ve been a business owner while also working my butt off as a technical architect, consultant, trainer, author and mentor. A while back, in 2018, the company we founded and ran with my brother for 8+ years merged with Sulava, another company in the Microsoft Partner ecosystem. We have an active role and prominent ownership in this new company and we’ve since grown to 100 or so people in total. I’m very proud of what the company has become and I like to think I’ve had a small but meaningful role in all this.

Last year I had a chance to spend 3 months off work for paternity leave. My youngest son was learning to walk, so we took the opportunity with the family to travel the world during this time. We did see a lot of great places and met old and new friends in Sydney, Hong Kong, Montreal, New York, Milan and Singapore. I might be forgetting a city or two.

What happens on those long intercontinental flights when everyone else is sleeping is that you have finally time to pause, think and reflect. I remember during one particularly long and sleepless flight from Cairns, Australia back to Sydney and thinking to myself, “what next?” It wasn’t because I felt I’d given my all to the company I helped co-found back in 2009. We’ve got a stellar leadership team and very active Board of Directors and shareholders. I felt an itch. It took me a few more months of reflection and long discussions with a few friends and my family to realize what’s next for me.

I’ve always been great at multitasking. Perhaps not that great at multifocus though. But advancing multiple projects and efforts over a period of time while still being focused at what’s important. I knew I needed something to move forward both professionally and mentally, but I didn’t want to leave the company behind as I love what I get to do every day with our customers.

Turns out you can study for a few days a month and still have ample time for work and pet projects. After 10 years of working very, very long days I felt it’s acceptable to slow down just a little bit to squeeze in time for school and studying.

I spent Christmas break in late 2018 researching my options. What could I study as a college dropout? I knew my experience from working in Finland and throughout Europe and having worked in large and small companies had prepared me for what’s next. I eventually settled for the Executive MBA exam.

Why? There’s a few reasons.

The average age for people starting their Executive MBA’s is around 40 years old. I turn 42 soon – or 40 for the third time. For a regular MBA program the average age is closer to 30. Nothing wrong with it but that 10 years makes a difference in thinking and perspective. For me, at least.

I chose Hanken School of Economics as my faculty. It’s close to where I live in Helsinki and very accessible with public transportation. Their program schedule is almost optimized for me over two years’ time of studies. They also have what’s called triple accreditation, wherein the school has all the major certifications and recognitions by the most influential business school accreditation organizations. I’m not inherently sure this makes a huge difference but it won’t hurt, I reasoned. Their motto, “We build the leaders of tomorrow“, is fitting and I felt this was the right path for me.

My studies will take two years and hopefully I’ll graduate with a funny-looking hat (I hope they give out hats) in early 2021. We’re almost done with two modules and it’s been a challenging yet fun journey so far.

I chose to make my notes by hand. In an old-fashioned way. I went back and forth for months on whether to purchase a new device with a fancy pen and digital note-taking capabilities but in the end I felt writing on real paper was the way to go for me. I’m getting better at it every day and I’m slowly finding the joy in scribbling and drawing again.

I hope to find new perspectives, clarity in thinking and most importantly, learn about new tools and frameworks to become a better leader in the future. This doesn’t happen just by reading books but in researching, working together in study groups and producing papers and content with the focus in understanding strategies, vision and what being a better leader entails.

In total the program is over 500 hours of time spent in classroom and over 1,000 hours of studies, authoring papers and research. For that I feel the overall cost of the program is very reasonable. It’s a lot of money but perhaps that was the reason I saved up a little bit of money over this past decade (and I did not buy the fancy note-taking device, so there’s that).

I’m conscious in my efforts not to fill the following months in my blog writing about school as I think I’m the one most interested in this. So expect technical posts and thoughts in the future, too.

What’s your next journey?