The Journey of a Lifetime: My MBA from Jack Welch

The Journey of a Lifetime: My MBA from Jack Welch

Source: Originally written and posted by Matthew Wilson on LinkedIn

I started my first business at age 11 and began investing in the stock market through my father’s brokerage account at age 14. For the longest time, I thought: ‘Why attend an expensive business school taught by a bunch of tenured academics riding-out their twilight years in a cushy teaching role?’

Instead, I figured it was best to learn by doing, gaining far more by building a business, and investing in companies than I ever would at school—a real-life MBA. So that’s what I did throughout my 20s and into my 30s—built a company and began investing in startups.

Yet as a life-long proponent of continuous learning and education, the thought of returning to business school had always lingered in the back of my mind—a challenge I wanted to check-off the bucket list.

Furthermore, although I was reading 20+ business books each year, had been a successful entrepreneur/operator, and had invested in capital markets for nearly two decades, there were, nevertheless, insecurities holding me back.

For example, I would attend conferences with rooms full of investors, yet often feel as though they all knew something I didn’t; as if my knowledge was incomplete. It was true.

Completing my MBA would fill the knowledge gaps and provide the necessary credibility to compete at the level I aspired to reach.

My Specific Criteria

Working full-time and with family obligations, I developed specific criteria if I were to return to school:

  1. I required a program that was flexible with my family and work obligations; there was no way I could realistically live on campus for two years;
  2. I wanted a program taught by experienced business people with credible track records across a diverse range of industries—faculty still actively working in Fortune 500 companies, possessing a solid grasp of today’s business realities.
  3. I sought a program with a modern and up-to-date curriculum, not strewn with irrelevant case studies from the 80s and 90s—a program where I could actively apply the curriculum to my business in real-time.
  4. I wanted a top-ranked accredited program with a strong brand name and one which had been steadily moving up the global MBA ranks year-after-year, continuing to increase the value of my degree long-after I had completed the program. Just as in business, my goal was to invest in a group of ambitious people determined to be #1.
  5. Living in Canada’s oil & gas capital, I sought cognitive and cultural diversity beyond what local programs offered, where I’d meet fellow students with a multitude of perspectives from across the globe, strengthening my network far beyond any single geographic region or industry.
  6. Lastly, I wanted a program that didn’t first require up to 12-months of studying for an irrelevant standardized test to determine whether I was good enough to enter the program. In my view, if I paid my money, had the experience, and possessed the necessary grit to succeed, let the program decide if I was good enough to stay—just as in business, sink or swim. There’s a time and place for standardized hurdles to entry, yet business is not one of them. Talented business people come in all forms, and continued evidence shows the low correlation between test-taking ability and entrepreneurial success. Thankfully, an increasing number of top-tier business schools are beginning to accept this reality and, subsequently, buck-the-trend. As a proven entrepreneur and investor, supporting the GMAT’s outdated business model is not a hoop I cared to jump through.

So, after five years of researching MBA programs across North America, I stumbled across the JWMI program on LinkedIn, and it was love at first sight!

A World-Class Experience

From many years of investing, I was well aware of Mr. Jack Welch and his legendary track record. They call him the “CEO of CEO’s” for a reason, and he’s arguably the most successful and accomplished CEO in history, helping to increase GE’s market cap by more than $400 billion, and more importantly, provided a launchpad for dozens of today’s most notable leaders.

After retiring from GE, Jack wanted a way to help those who could benefit from his many decades of knowledge and experience. After all, the ultimate test of any true leader is the ability to pass the torch and watch others succeed. So, in 2009, Jack launched his business school: the Jack Welch Management Institute (JWMI).

After grooming many of the world’s (now) top CEO’s, Jack opened his Rolodex and invited his world-class network of business titans to contribute and establish the curriculum as it is taught today.

Throughout the program, classmates and I had the opportunity of guest lectures from some of the most prominent business leaders of our time—an experience I would never get at most other programs—including C-Suite and Executive leaders from IBM, Netflix, Under Armour, Google, Starbucks, Anheuser-Busch, Blackstone, Amazon, McDonald’s, Medtronic, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, P&G, CNBC, hedge fund managers, government leaders; even Gary Vaynerchuk and Warren Buffet! The list goes on.

The faculty, curriculum, and resources Jack & Suzy put together are second-to-none, and before he unfortunately passed in March 2020, Jack would spend time with each student in the program, talking business, life, and everything in between.

Jack was sincerely world-class, and his legacy lives on through his timeless teachings at JWMI.

Get Ready for a Life-Changing Ride

When Jack first launched JWMI in 2009, many traditional brick-and-mortar schools dismissed his vision for a world-class program available entirely online, focused on helping students learn and grow in a realistic and flexible way.

However, as history shows, the most meaningful and successful innovators often begin with a bold vision against the status quo; re-establishing growth curves, embracing change, and unlocking new markets. For example, just as the thought of sleeping on a stranger’s couch seemed absurd, in only 12-years, Airbnb is now larger than Marriott, Hilton, and Starwood, combined.

Sustainable market leadership is not about maximizing profits based on the trends of today, but identifying and adapting to the shifting needs and consumer demands of tomorrow; with the courage to abandon rigid, legacy business models.

Furthermore, meaningful and sustainable change requires the resilience to go left when everyone else turns right, to envision the future, identify emerging trends, and lead change. Now, since the global COVID-19 crisis, legacy business schools have scrambled to adopt Jack’s online methodology, while students at JWMI seamlessly cruise towards graduation without delay. Thanks, Jack!

Nonetheless, even with the flexibility to achieve an MBA at my own pace, the JWMI program is not to be taken lightly. Jack’s founding principle is, “Learn it on Monday. Apply it on Tuesday.” The curriculum is dynamic and fast, moving through real-world case studies, modules, group chats, and more.

Here’s just a snapshot of what my past 21-months have looked like:

  • 300,000+ written words—the equivalent of four novels
  • 2,700+ hours of reading & studying—the equivalent of 112 days
  • 100+ hours of classroom discussions
  • 37 case studies/projects/assignments
  • 10 video presentations
  • Culminating in 1 world-class MBA degree.

Jack’s formula for success is always to outworkoutlearn, and overdeliver. To succeed in his program, students must do the same.

Furthermore, it’s equally important to realize a journey like this requires sacrifice, not only from students but those around us. Just as students spend hours studying, our loved ones take the journey with us, relinquishing evenings, weekends, and time commonly reserved for family. I can’t thank my wife enough for her unwavering support over the past 21-months. It is truly a team effort in making it across the finish line, and she made all the difference in getting me there.

Next Steps

I’ve always welcomed and embraced change—it has severed me well throughout my life and career. Nevertheless, change can be a scary thing, and we’d be fooling ourselves to think otherwise.

For the past 21-months, I’ve spent roughly 30-hours each week working routinely towards my MBA goal. Yet with the journey now complete, I’ll admit it’s somewhat of an eerie feeling.

As with any journey in life, only once we reach the end do we realize it’s not the top of the mountain we seek but the progress and journey of getting there. The fun is in the ride, not the finish. It’s why so many accomplished entrepreneurs build a great company only to pass the reigns and return to the starting line with a new startup. We reach the finish line and ask, “Great, what’s next?” as if we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves, having spent so many months focused on achieving a singular goal.

As thrilling as it feels to finish, I’ll admit, I spent my final semester knowing there was an impending sense of emptiness once my last assignment was in and the books were closed. It’s been a life-changing journey, one I have enjoyed waking-up to each day. Yet if there is anything I learned from Jack, it’s to take time and celebrate the small wins along the way; then, get back to work and continue making progress.

I look forward to the next stage in my career and will forever embrace Jack’s guiding voice in the back of my mind, helping me win at everything I do.

Thank you, Jack.