x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

For the working professional student, a long road ahead

The last time Faiz Ansari sat in a classroom, 11 years ago, he found it tough putting in the 15 to 20 hours of work daily to complete his MBA.

Faiz Ansari is a businessman who is juggling full time work and family life while going back to business school.
Faiz Ansari is a businessman who is juggling full time work and family life while going back to business school.

The last time Faiz Ansari sat in a classroom, 11 years ago, he found it tough putting in the 15 to 20 hours of work daily to complete his MBA at Lahore University of Management Sciences. But back then Mr Ansari did not have anywhere near the number of commitments he has now. "I was single," he says. "No wife, it was your own life and the very initial part of my career. So my responsibilities were much less and the stakes were very low." Now, as the 38-year-old executive begins his second MBA, in Dubai through Manchester Business School, he is even more anxious about the workload. Reading textbooks and attending classes will have to be slotted in between his full-time job at a pharmaceutical company, or moments with his wife and three daughters. "Time management, discipline, structure will be the key," Mr Ansari says. This is one of the major problems working professionals face when they return to complete their MBAs, says Alistair Benson, the academic director at MBS. Executive education programs, such as the one in which Mr Ansari is enrolled, require 15 to 20 hours of study a week on top of a full-time job and family commitments, Mr Benson says. Some people who make the decision to return to school do not realise the demands required of them. "There's an awful lot of time that needs to be put in when studying an MBA," Mr Benson says. "One of the difficulties of re-entering courses is getting that balance right." Mr Ansari says he usually works 11-hour days at Astra Zenica as the territory manager of Iran and Pakistan. He also spends one or two weeks each month travelling for work. Cutting back on his professional workload will be tough, so, Mr Ansari plans to scale back his social life and time spent with his wife, Zara, and his daughters Faarea, Aeman and Emaan. Talking to his wife and his boss before taking the plunge was key, he says. "My suggestion would be to involve the stakeholders in the decision, which is your family and your organisation, so they know and they are mentally prepared for it." Professionals returning to school also typically have trouble remembering the tips and tricks of study after many years, Mr Benson says. "They're learning to learn again." Part of that process is to change their way of approaching problems, from obvious solutions to higher-level thinking, he says. "Companies want to know what the problem is, what to do about it, and fix it," Mr Benson says. "Whereas the MBA analysis of problems requires looking at all the appropriate solutions, rather than just firefighting." Mr Benson recommends back-to-schoolers create a regimented schedule, with specific time slots for work and study. "Get yourself organised," he says. "If you're not organised, you're not going to hit the targets." Students, especially those who have been away from the classroom for several years, should be prepared for a programme that requires heavy student-teacher interaction, Mr Benson says, adding that MBA programs were more book-based in the past. "Make sure you turn up for sessions well prepared to be taught and expecting to participate," he says. Mr Ansari says there may be one benefit to having a career and learning at the same time. He hopes his time spent in the working world will serve as a live case study, and help him retain and apply what he learns in his textbooks. "I'm hoping this time I will learn more," Mr Ansari says. "The practical application will be immediate." While he is wary about the heavy workload and sacrifice ahead, he hopes an MBA from an internationally recognised school will help his career. "Now, I want to move to a different league." aligaya@thenational.ae