Home Advice For The Young At Heart Getting The Education You Need To Succeed In Business

Getting The Education You Need To Succeed In Business

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by Christopher H. Volk, author of “The Value Equation: A Business Guide To Creating Wealth For Entrepreneurs, Investors And Leaders

During thirty years of leading and co-founding public companies, I have hired a wide array of talented people with varying educational backgrounds from recent graduates to more experienced professionals with masters degrees and professional designations.

This experience has provided me with insights on the effectiveness of their education as the foundation to fulfill their career objectives.

In addition to my perspective as an executive, I have also served as a business school visiting professor and guest lecturer. Plus I was also on the receiving end of a business school education, earning a traditional MBA after obtaining my undergraduate degree in European History and French.

So putting it all together, here’s what I’ve learned about education and its impact on a business career.

What Business Schools Miss

My observation is that business graduates generally fell short in three central vocational skills. These include:

Sales.

The heart of any successful business is sales. This is where businesspeople roll up their sleeves and get dirty. In selling, you advocate for your own ability to solve customer problems while personally representing your company. In selling, you put your reputation on the line.

A personal confession: after all my education, I had no idea how to sell. Nor have I witnessed much improvement in the job candidates I have interviewed over the years. I had to learn, and at our companies, we taught many of our successful professionals foundational sales skills.

My personal experience, and that of others, is evidence that good salespeople are made not born. Learning how to sell enabled me to become an entrepreneur and to raise the money needed to start two companies that would eventually be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Convincing investors to allocate a portion of their precious capital to us involved sales skills. So did soliciting our many customers who came to rely on our real estate capital solutions.

Getting good at sales can’t be simply accomplished by reading a book or attending a class. A key component of successful sales is genuineness, which means that the best salespeople adopt a style consistent with their personality. Learning how to do this and harness sales tools can take time. But still, wouldn’t it have been great to have taken at least a class or some seminars on sales and negotiation? Business school graduates who do this would have a better head start.

Financial Statement Analysis.

Nearly all the undergraduate and graduate business degree holders who came to us over the years lacked an ability to meaningfully interpret corporate financial statements. I gained my first fundamental financial statement knowledge through a two-month long credit training course at the commercial bank where I started my career in finance. I draw on what I learned there to this day and banks still offer this training. At the companies I led, financial statement analysis training was essential.

There are few places in business where understanding how to read corporate financial statements is not important. The financial analysis training offered at banks is centered on determining the capacity of a company to repay loans. For anyone making corporate or personal investments, financial statement analysis is helpful in opportunity evaluation. For business leaders, understanding how to evaluate their own corporate financial statements is essential.

Why did so many of our prospective employees have so little knowledge about how to read and interpret corporate financial statements? I still don’t know! But added education in this area would absolutely elevate employee candidate desirability. Like sales training, it would give them a head start.

Business Model Fundamentals.

I became interested in business model fundamentals early in my career with a basic banking observation: Not all companies are created equal. Some companies have better business models than others.

To understand business model fundamentals is to understand how companies create wealth and how the richest among us got that way. Today, the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans is dominated by those having investments in technology and asset management companies characterized by potent business models. But the potential for wealth creation exists in virtually any business.

Understanding business model fundamentals is important. It can help with career choices and job selection, since companies having stronger business models tend to be characterized by better pay and personal growth potential. It can help hone leadership skills, given that business model adjustments tend to be at the heart of corporate management objectives. And understanding business models can help with entrepreneurial efforts to start or buy a company.

With this in mind, business students with better grounding in corporate wealth creation and business model design would have a head start in fulfilling their leadership aspirations.

One More Thing

Apart from the three shortcomings described above, business graduates who came to our companies often fell short in basic foundational writing and problem-soling skills.

Problem-solving is central to the most desirable careers. Problem solvers enjoy the satisfaction derived from making a positive difference for others. Problem solvers tend to have greater variety in their daily tasks and tend to earn more as they ascend to leadership positions.

To address written and problem-solving skills, I have often found myself advising business students to take a few challenging liberal arts classes. Analyzing and writing about complex problems for which there are no linear, simple or singular answers can provide a solid training ground for future business leaders

A Commitment to Action

If you’re currently a business student, seek out opportunities to get exposure to sales and negotiating, financial statement analysis, and business model design education. Then, if you can, take time to study one or more liberal arts. Write a lot as you analyze and dissect some of history’s most challenging problems and build an important problem-solving foundation together with a tolerance for ambiguity that will deliver benefits throughout your career.

If you graduated with a business degree and aspire to leadership, invest time in gaining experience in the three vocational skills.  And if you passed through your education with minimal exposure to a liberal art, it’s never too late to start.

 

Christopher Volk

Christopher H. Volk, author of “The Value Equation: A Business Guide To Creating Wealth For Entrepreneurs, Investors And Leaders“, has been instrumental in leading and publicly listing three successful companies, two of which he co-founded. The most recent is STORE Capital (NYSE: “STOR”) where he served as founding chief executive officer and then as executive chairman. Volk is a regional winner of EYs’ Entrepreneur of the Year award.