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The ROI of an MBA; The Apartment Developers Dilemma

Our conversation following my most recent blog, To MBA or Not To MBA went down some very interesting paths (although for some reason, the comments on ULI did not aggregate on MFI); so much so that I believe that it might be useful to further flesh-out some of the thoughts. The most remarkable to me, was the concept of ‘the ROI of the MBA.’ It has been asserted that the only way in business to evaluate a decision or an investment is based on its ROI. As my view of real estate development and the developers’ role in society is more holistic, my natural reaction is to reject the relevance of this singular point of view. In fact, anyone who has read my blogs probably already knows that I would argue that the sole pursuit of ROI maximization is destroying our urban fabric because it leads to a myopic view of the world. Suburban sprawl for instance is ROI maximization run amuck. I would suggest that we have a higher responsibility as creators and visionaries than can be calculated on a spreadsheet. After all what is the ROI of donating time or money to philanthropic organizations? Or being kind to others? Or traveling the world? Or reading voraciously? Each of these inputs informs our decisions as individuals and professionals, but none have predetermined effect on our salary or future promote.

 There are a few other challenges with the ROI metric as related to the viability of the MBA:

  1. The MBA is not a professional degree, therefore it enables nothing. Whereas architecture, law or medical degrees are prerequisites of their professions; an MBA is wholly elective.
  2. Actual ROI is only measurable in arrears. So to know whether it was a good investment or not, you actually not only have to get one, but you have to be able to measure your life’s path with it and without it. That is an impossible task.
  3.  The unique usefulness of an MBA also relies on your other experiences and qualifications. For instance, if your undergraduate degree is in business or economics, the MBA is mostly redundant. If yours is a degree in literature, you likely have some knowledge gaps which need filled.

 It is important to understand that the MBA is potentially one of many tools in your toolbox and its value is relational to the rest of the tools that you possess. In real estate development, it is improvable that an MBA will have any consequential effect on your overall life’s earnings. But this fact neither makes seeking one a good or bad decision. And attempting to proforma its value is folly.

 At the end of the day, I would still advise most real estate developers (who want to continue to be real estate developers) against pursuing an MBA for reasons discussed in my previous blog. But the key here is to remember that you are in control of your story. Projects will come and go, but ultimately you are the architect of the product which is you; and if you feel strongly that it is a necessary tool in your belt- then by all means get that degree. But if that is your choice, I would suggest that you consider an Executive MBA over a traditional one. Never underestimate the value of experience.

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