EXECUTIVE EDUCATION Writing A New Chapter – How four 50+ MBA students have changed their worlds

The Policeman
Dennis Wood, now senior associate at insolvency and recovery firm McDonald Vague, spent 27 years in the police force before an MBA launched him into the corporate world.
Wood’s police work was mainly in the CIB, working with serious crime. “I had number of years working on company fraud,” he says, “and I finished up in South Auckland as serious crime manager.”
The death of his wife made police work untenable for Wood. “I was finding it stressful trying to do job like that which sometimes involved working through the night, then going home to three young kids,” he says.
So he left the police in 2000 and began diploma in business at Auckland University’s Business School with an option to proceed to full-blown MBA. “With lengthy career in non-profit service organisation, I needed to commercialise really quickly,” he explains.
Wood had plan but not firm one. “I was doing an MBA because I wanted to fast track myself either into my own business or senior management role,” he explains.
He got his second goal – senior management role – in 2002, after doing series of odd jobs in security during his first year of study.
Now he is solvency manager and in some cases liquidator. “The work is varied: from liquidations to receiverships to forensic accounting to business advice on restructuring,” he explains.
His MBA opened the door to senior position within the company and involvement in its future direction. “[The degree is] paying real dividends now because I’m heavily involved in the strategy, marketing and organisational change within this business,” he says. “It’s given me the skills to examine the macro environment and look down the track.”
The marketing skills and mindsets learned on the MBA also came in useful. “Marketing here has always been on the basis that the partner brings in new work and the employee doesn’t see his role as marketing,” he says, “but that philosophy is changing and I’m trying to drive that change. It’s behavioural thing. It’s about building relationships with the clients you’ve got.”
The years of police experience have proved useful; Wood finds himself the “go-to” guy for particularly difficult liquidations. “We’ve had people walk in here and try and use standover tactics. I’ve just sat back at the table, looked at them and thought ‘who the hell do you think you’re playing with? It doesn’t work [with me]’.” While he says the company can take hard-nosed approach sometimes, it’s ultimately about acting in the best interests of the creditor and the director. “You’re walking tightrope.”
Wood admits that, for many, an MBA – with total cost averaging $26,000 – is daunting prospect. But, he says, “I have reaped the rewards twofold, both academically and financially.”

The Farmer

Bill Busby has been on the farm all his life. Whether it’s the family business in Gisborne, or the farms around the world where he worked as young man on his OE, agribusiness is in this man’s blood.
When Busby’s wife became ill several years ago, the couple was forced to leave the day-to-day management of their 8000-acre farm in Tokomaru Bay. “I’d thought of doing an MBA about six or seven years earlier, so I decided I’d give it go.”
Busby had completed certificate in farm management back in 1975 but his best business qualifications came from his experience. He’s director of the $40 million Tauwhareparae Farms, has had 20 years as city councillor, and until recently, sat on family trust board.
Not surprisingly, he found the business side of his studies relatively easy while doing the MBA – an advantage he had over his younger classmates at Massey University. “I’ve been the eldest in our class by almost 20 years. I’m 55, most of them were about 35 to 40, and I thought they’d blow me away, but no way,” he says. “A lot of these people have never owned business; they work for people. I can put them straight into the picture of what life is all about when you’re running your own business.”
Recently Busby put manager in charge of his farm and the MBA has given him confidence to leave the manager be. “Once you know what you’re doing, and you’ve got systems in place, life can be as easy or hard as you want,” he says.
Busby’s plans for the future include travel, directorships – and no more farm work. “The cash returns [from farming] are absolutely abysmal,” he says. “I want business that generates lot of cash. Something completely different.”

The Soldier

Shabbir Ali has had many occupations. Before leaving his native Pakistan to find better opportunities for his children in New Zealand, Ali worked in the military and in the transport, education and pharmaceutical industries.
Despite earning masters degree in transport administration from the University of Karachi, Ali has experienced hesitancy from potential employers. “I considered they were right,” says Ali, “and so I drove bus for two years and did security job. But I realised then I should gain some qualifications to get into an entry-level job.”
Ali chose to study an MBA at AUT because of his multifaceted earlier career. “I’m not technical person. I cannot do accounting, engineering or health sciences, so an MBA is more or less general degree, which gives you access to any industry at an initial level,” he explains.
Despite his difficulty finding employment that matches his qualifications to date, Ali remains optimistic: “Knowledge always gives you something and an MBA has given me lot.”

The Entrepreneur

When Maxine Corban left her small-town school, university was only for “lawyers, accountants or doctors”. Although others recommended it for her, she resisted the idea. “There was nobody around to tell me what the benefits would have been,” she says.
Instead, Corban spent time working in broadcasting before buying hairdressing business when children arrived. “In those days employers weren’t particularly family-friendly,” explains Corban. “So when I decided we needed extra income I thought the easiest way would be to become my own boss.”
After family move to Wellington, Corban sold the hairdressing business and started handcrafted knitwear business supplying tourist outlets around the country. “Both of them were businesses I had no experience in prior to buying them,” she says of her entrepreneurial exploits, “and I can look back now with all my MBA knowledge and see all the things I did that weren’t very smart.”
Unlike many MBA graduates, Corban’s career change came before, not after, her MBA studies. “I got very tired of [running business],” she says. “I thought somebody else could worry and I would go and work for salary.”
She began her career at large bank, where she still works today. “I started out in very minor role and progressed to corporate headquarters,” she says.
The seed for an MBA was first planted at her oldest daughter’s graduation. “I watched the ceremony and thought how much I would love to be one of those people walking up to be capped,” she says. Having always emphasised the importance of education to her girls, Corban realised she had better try it for herself.
The vision was put on hold for few years until personal circumstances enabled Corban to take on the rigours of study, supported by her employer.
Study began with the Certificate of Management Studies at Victoria University. Available as either standalone course or prerequisite to an MBA.
Corban’s studies coincided with her younger daughter’s time studying for degree. “I’d get her to critique my assignments until I had few under my belt,” says Corban. “We got to the point where we only had one PC and were almost booking it for when we needed it.”
Corban’s main motivation for doing the MBA has been to discover her own competency. “I bought house last year, and I’ve probably got mortgage bigger than the national debt,” she says. “Now, instead of lying awake at night worrying, I have quiet belief in myself, that as result of what I’ve learnt – wh

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