It takes time, effort and money. But doing an MBA can also help you raise your game and take both your career, and your thinking, to the next level

When he was 21, Steve McGuckin made a list of 50 things he wanted to do by the time he was 50. Now 49, Turner & Townsend’s managing director has ticked off an impressive 47 ambitions but has had to admit defeat on the remaining three: “I wanted to have five children. I have two at the moment so unless we can engineer triplets somehow, that’s not going to happen,” he laughs. “And fly a fighter jet. But the instructor had a heart attack the day before I was due to do that one. And I wanted to do a Ph.D. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time, but I did do an MBA. And that has been invaluable.”

McGuckin says that his MBA (Master of Business Administration) completely changed how he saw the world. He started the course in his twenties but the masters is just as valuable to do in your thirties, forties or beyond, either to get an additional qualification while you’re working, or as a way to make use of a break from your job - whether voluntary or not.

So what are the benefits of doing an MBA? Building asked employers how much those three little letters on a CV mean and talked to people who have finished the course about how it has improved their career path and salary.

Doing an MBA at a top university like London, Manchester or Harvard could change your life and double your income

Steve McGuckin, Turner & Townsend

The benefits
McGuckin, who has held key roles at Mace, Land Securities and now Turner & Townsend, took his qualification at Bradford university and he has some encouragement for anyone considering taking the step now or in the future: “Doing an MBA at one of the top universities like London, Manchester or Harvard could completely change your life and double your income,” he says. “But doing it anywhere will be great for your personal development and flexibility in your career.”

He does warn, though, that you must do your research properly before enrolling and particularly advises you to look into some key factors when deciding where to go: “It is about the diversity, experience and intelligence of the people in your year and the quality of the external speakers the business school can attract. It is a big investment, so choose carefully.”

McGuckin isn’t the only person to value an MBA. As far as plenty of potential employers are concerned, this qualification is like gold dust. Whether you are a recent graduate who went straight on to do the course or came to it later in life, taking this high-level qualification demonstrates a level of commitment and dedication to furthering your career and arms you with a set of business skills that will put you head and shoulders above your competitors. These can include an understanding of marketing principles, managerial accounting, organisation and people management and the management of change and innovation; all qualities employers look for in a high-level executive.

And employers in the contracting, property and consultancy sectors do have a particular interest in candidates with MBAs. Even architects, who can be more focused on a potential employee’s creative background, can see the value in the qualification. Peter Caplehorn, technical director of architecture firm Scott Brownrigg says: “An MBA has very good standing and is a highly regarded additional qualification after the RIBA qualification route.”

Recognising the demand within the industry, many universities offer MBA courses that are specifically tailored to construction. These include Construction and Real Estate for anyone focusing on construction and property, engineering business managers, financial managers and finance professionals. Manchester university, renowned for being one of the UK’s leading business schools, offers an MBA that is specifically designed for managers working in construction disciplines.

Do you have what it takes?
One of the reasons MBAs are so highly regarded is that they are not easy. It’s harder to be accepted onto a course than a standard postgraduate degree - you must be educated to degree level and for construction and property courses you usually need to have about three years’ worth of work experience in the sector, too.

Ben Elder, business development director at the College of Estate Management, says: “Relevant work experience is a very important element of the MBA, as the course has been specifically designed to build on an individual’s management experience, demonstrating how international best practice in similar situations can improve performance.”

On top of experience and intellect, there are the practical requirements of time and money. A course like this is an investment that could pay for itself once you have finished as you may be able to demand a higher salary and climb the career ladder more quickly. But none of this detracts from the fact that there will be a hefty upfront payment. While costs and timeframes will vary from course to course, and between universities, you’re looking at about £10,000 for a distance-learning, 33-month course at the College of Estate Management, for example.

How long it will take you to complete the course depends on how full time you want, or are able, to study. Standard full-time courses take about two years, or less if you can hack an accelerated course. Part-time courses, where you attend classes on weekday evenings and over weekends, last nearer three years. Whichever course type you go for, most are supported by technology that allows for distance learning - useful for anyone wanting to complete the qualification while in full or part-time employment or students who prefer to learn from home.

Is it worth it?
Doing an MBA is a life decision rather than a quick fix to fill time between jobs or do a bit of extra studying to boost your CV. It requires a huge investment of time and money and anyone planning to do one should be realistic about the effect will have on their life - especially if they’re hoping to study alongside their job. But like any investment, there is a pay off. If you complete the course you will be more attractive to employers, be in a better position to negotiate a higher salary and you will have learned an awful lot along the way.

Case study

Trevor Wright, 46, is group project director at Bluu Group, a London-based contractor. He says that doing an MBA in construction management propelled his career forward and that the extra qualification gave him the edge he needed to get to where he is today.

“At the start of the millennium I was 34 and a divisional director for a large Plc focusing on construction and fit-out. Although I enjoyed the role, I knew that I had more to offer and more to learn. I wanted to further my management career and so I made a very important decision: to further my education and broaden my management knowledge by doing an MBA.

“I did my MBA in construction management at the College of Estate Management at Reading university to broaden my commercial awareness from both a design and a project management perspective. It also gave me the opportunity to work with global corporate management teams.

“It wasn’t easy. As a mature student in a senior management role, with a young family, it was difficult trying to juggle a 60-hour working week, home life and study time. It was a matter of grabbing spare time between travelling to and from work and reading well into the night.

“Despite the difficulty juggling everything, it was completely worth it. In terms of how doing the MBA helped further my career, I am now group project director at Bluu Group and as part of my senior management remit is looking after our group of companies. I also set up our global sustainable consultancy division, BG2, which has now completed its first year of trading and is proving to be very successful.”

Why do an MBA?

  • The qualification is recognised worldwide
  • It is one of the most highly respected accreditations among employers - especially if you have attended one of the top universities in the UK or US to get it
  • It gives you a better chance at being put in a position to manage and lead teams
  • It offers specialised skills which directly reflect the changing nature of an increasingly global economy
  • Most courses have flexible attendance and study arrangements to make it easier for people to balance the course with work and home life
  • It can significantly increase earning potential.