Building a business case for your MBA: remember, it’s not all about you

You’ve set your heart on an MBA, but your personal savings don’t stretch to covering tuition fees just at the moment and you’re hoping that maybe your employer can help! But convincing them to fund your MBA may take a bit of preparation and a sound line of argument, as this conversation, overheard recently in a respectable public institution makes clear...

Speaker 1: So, I’ve found the MBA of my dreams at Henley Business School Africa. It’s such a great school, they’ve got some seriously heavy hitting alumni and they are all about creating positive change in Africa. And I’d graduate with a degree from the UK as it’s the only truly international MBA qualification available in South Africa so I’d be properly globalised.  

Speaker 2: Do it! It’s a brilliant degree – I also studied there.  
Speaker 1: I know. But listen – I have put most of what I have toward my honeymoon, and so, right now, the MBA is out of reach. I know you got funding from our company when you did your MBA there – how did you go about building your business case?    

Speaker 2: It’s funny you should ask. Someone else was asking me this just last week, so I have all the info right in my frontal lobe. What do you want to know?    

Speaker 1: Well – where did you start?   

Speaker 2: Ok, so I didn’t immediately start writing an email. I thought first: who’s going to be reading this? And what am I asking of them? And why would they want to help me? I called those people my stakeholders, and I ranked them by influence. I knew that this would help me make my pitch simple, relevant and quick to read.    

Speaker 1: It’s quite daunting having to convince people you have never met that they should help you.    

Speaker 2: Exactly. You have to have good arguments and you want the strength of your character to show through. So, I actually took the time out to do a bit of research on the company itself, what were the key challenges we were facing right then that my MBA studies could possibly help solve. It was only after that that I began writing, and in my introduction, I made sure to point out right at the beginning why they were receiving the proposal and what company needs would be met by it. I then provided a summary of what would follow, explaining that they would each be contributing to an initiative that could help them solve a few of the challenges they were personally grappling with.  

Speaker 1: That sounds easy enough – but surely you need to go into more detail than that?   

Speaker 2: I’m only just getting started here! Yes, you definitely need more detail. In section 2 of the pitch, I expanded on how the company’s needs would be addressed by my participation in the MBA over the course of 2-3 years. I informed my stakeholders that the MBA would see me acting as an internal consultant of sorts, completing projects about our workplace and the challenges we faced there each day. I made it clear that I would be supervised by Henley Business School Africa faculty, who are themselves industry experts and experienced managers.    

Speaker 1: Wow, it sounds seriously advantageous to the workplace.    

Speaker 2:  Yes, it really is, and in the pitch it was important to paint the picture of where our company could be at the end of my degree and how my studies would help us to get there.  

 Speaker 1: And in so doing you reinforced the point that you were in it for the long run with your company. To demonstrate that you were committed to them and that you were not furthering yourself alone, but furthering us. That’s powerful!    

Speaker 2: You’re getting it now! So yes, it is not all about you! It’s important to go into detail about the mutual benefit of the MBA to yourself and your company. I described their expected return on investment and listed the benefits. Did they know that the benefits included immediate access to some great business minds? The creation of a leadership pipeline – in our own workplace? The growth of my own confidence and capabilities, improving my ability to analyse and solve real-world business problems? The fact that investing in training was a far better way to recruit and retain senior managers?    

Speaker 1: I remember watching you grow during your MBA and how much it helped us. It’s one of the reasons I am keen to follow in your footsteps. And look – if I join the MBA programme, I’ll then become part of the leadership pipeline you spoke of. Right? I’m really motivated now to get this. How can I increase the chances of them accepting my request?   

Speaker 2: Show you are committed to your studies, and to your company. Weigh up the pros and cons of working and studying at the same time. Describe how you would overcome the time pressures and obstacles that come your way. Maybe mention that Henley Business School Africa is famed for its family-friendly and flexible approach, which means you can structure the degree around your work and family life and not the other way around. Which may come in handy, seeing as you are about to get married … The school is also brilliant at supporting you to make sure you finish.   

Speaker 1: And what if they ask me about my choice? Why Henley Business School Africa? What do I say?    

Speaker 2: Well, that’s easy. Just mention my name … my reputation in the company speaks for itself!  But seriously, write about the three areas of the degree that will bring the most value to the company and yourself: the alumni network (one of the largest and most global of any business school anywhere by the way), the fact that it is the only African business school to be quadruple-accredited so the quality of education is really high, and the fact that it is an international degree, so though you are studying in South Africa, you are getting the same degree that MBA students at Henley Business School in the UK or Maylasia are getting. Your studies will help to globalise you and our company. I’ll link you an article about the top 10 reasons for studying at Henley when I get home if you remind me.  <link to 10 reasons blog>.    

Speaker 1: Great. So, any tips for how to close off the pitch? I’m guessing you explained why you were the right person for this degree? I think I would speak about the trouble and cost of hiring new MBA graduates and the skills I would gain, thereby reiterating the value I would add to the company? Did you speak again about how your choice of school was not just the right choice for you, but for your company too?    

Speaker 2: My friend, I did just that. No harm in a bit of repetition of key points right? Then I took the proposal in for review, and because I knew our company’s sign-off approval process before I had even started writing, I knew I would meet the success criteria.    

Speaker 1: I’ll do the same.   

Speaker 2: Good luck! You can’t go wrong with a Henley MBA by the way! It’s an incredible experience. I am still benefitting from what I learned on the programme.  

Speaker 1: Good to know man, thanks for taking the time to share all of that.   

Speaker 2: Anytime! Hey and enjoy that honeymoon! Where will you be going ….   

Check out this article for more tips on how to persuade your boss to pay for your studies:

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