Why top MBA Students should pursue a career path in Operations instead of Finance.

Business school students generally head in one of two directions from day-one: finance or operations.  The allure of finance is working with money to buy and sell companies. Success is when a small stake in a large transaction generates a healthy payday in a short time.  The attraction of operations is working with people to build and run something of value that is eventually realized through a sale or refinancing.

Finance looks like the fast track to great wealth and has attracted the best students for decades.  Operations looks like a long, hard road with a massive payday only for the few with enough dedication, talent, time, and luck to pull off a successful start-up from scratch. While the economy needs both financiers and operators, the promise of quick and large returns has left the world short of the talent it needs to drive growth and scale of quality organizations.

Top operators know how to get clear about what they seek to accomplish, build and align a team to achieve specific goals, and provide governance and drive over a sustained period to accomplish them.  Those who master the art have a high probability of creating wealth for investors, founders, and top teams responsible for the success.  This path should be of interest to more of our top students but it may not be because they do not understand how it works and where the payoff comes from.

One way to look at it is that the odds of success are vastly increased for good operators who join ventures that have passed the start-up phase and are ready to scale. Financiers make a lot of bets to have one pay-off big.  Those who start their own firms, on the other hand, essentially put all their chips on one bet.  Great operators can have their cake and eat it too by signing on with:

  • an early-stage venture that is ready to get past the squirrel-cage start-up phase and that is ready to grow or
  • any operation under-performing relative to its potential (which is most organizations!).

Both are opportunities to deliver improvements that drive an increase in value which they and their top  teams participate as explained, for example, in this video:

2010 BusinessBecause.com Video Interview
2010 BusinessBecause.com Video Interview

Great operators take a small stake in ventures in which they know they can add value but that does not have to be a grand-slam to generate a decent payday for those who helped make it happen.  While the payoff may not be glamorous or fast, it may be more sure, realistic, and attractive to those with operating instincts and ability who desire to build organizations that reliably grow and perform over the long haul.

More of  the best and brightest should consider this path to help the world, and to help themselves, get on a fast-track to generating value by building organizations and people to be all they can be.

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