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Your Future in Tech, Your MBA from Wisconsin

By Charlie Scott

May 1, 2022

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Looking to hone your business acumen before reentering or pivoting into tech? Without the sparkle of a top-10 ranking, the proximity to Silicon Valley, or a household reputation for churning out the best and brightest tech-founders and CEOs, the Wisconsin School of Business might not be near the top of your full-time MBA Program shortlist. Here’s why it should be.

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Before we dive in, let’s recognize that your choice of an MBA program is rooted in value, and value is highly subjective. Yes, you want the degree and associated earnings and leadership opportunities. You want that blue-chip tech job. Of course, you don’t want to pay 4x what you could have to end up in the same position 5 or 10 years down the line. With all of those (and your other) objectives in mind, how will you weight and compare total program cost and opportunity cost against program prestige, recruiting network, location, curriculum, class size, and expected future earnings so that you can compare programs on a like basis? You have a lot of variables to consider. The relative importance of each depends on your unique situation and aspirations. So, let’s take a few steps back and consider the question: should we rely on top-10 program rankings to shepherd us to the “best” one-size-fits-all MBA solutions?

As a prospective MBA student looking to accelerate my career in tech, here are the key factors that led me to Wisconsin.

1) The Financials

You’ve researched a few competitive programs and wow – sticker-shock, right? (I’ve got three capital letters for you, future MBA student: NPV). Make sure you’re not just looking at tuition costs. We’re talking tuition, fees and supplies plus rent and other living expenses adjusted for location over two years. Very important: The cost of living in the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, New York or even the woods of Hanover ≠ the cost of living in Madison. So all-in, you’re looking at joining “the $200k club” (Poets&Quants) with most competitive programs, vs. a total program cost of between $100k-$130k at Wisconsin, depending on in-state residency. Subtract from this a generous University-provided merit-based scholarship if you’re a promising candidate, and tuition expenses from your second year if you’re able to TA a course in that year, and you will find a pretty stark difference.

If you’re like me and didn’t buy Bitcoin early or have $200k stashed under your mattress, this is really a debt decision – a solid 5 figures of incremental interest on your investment, significantly widens the already broad gap between the Wisconsin MBA and the rest. After that calculation, it’s an opportunity cost decision – foregone earnings and experience plus investment alternatives. Now that we’ve completed that sobering journey, it’s finally time to compare what you get for the money at each institution, already knowing that Wisconsin will be a top performing investment.

2) Targeted Curriculum

You’re getting your MBA to boost your career trajectory in tech. What’s the best way to demonstrate that intent to future employers and polish your tech-business skillset? A) Get a general “chicken or beef” MBA degree in management or finance from a top university. Or, B) Demonstrate that you have a specific passion for and competency in tech business through a tech-specialized MBA? The Wisconsin School of Business offers specialized programs in Technology Strategy & Product Management and Technology Product Marketing. The program’s commitment to tech is further demonstrated by its administration and board composition, with Dean Samba, a digital business expert, at the helm, and executives from Intuit, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and other heavy-hitter tech companies on its advisory boards.

3) Program Connections

Board composition is never coincidental. The major tech companies that sit on the program’s advisory boards recruit heavily at Wisconsin. Working alongside Chairman Scott Cook (Intuit’s Founder & Previous CEO) on the board of the Brand & Product Management MBA Track, are executives from other tech companies and CPG giants like P&G, Nestlé, Target, and 3M. Why do I mention CPG? While the tech industry is the young, attractive object of our desire, CPG companies are tech’s primary feeder for brand talent. Proctor & Gamble literally invented the brand management concept and has spent billions perfecting its approach over the last century. For that reason, the biggest players in tech still source their top brand talent from CPG. This may change as tech branding comes of age, but today, your fastest path to the top of a tech marketing organization may be through P&G.

4) Program Location

If you want to work in big tech, does your MBA program need to be based near Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston or NYC? No. The program’s connections and curriculum are the significant variables to consider. You need the right tech companies on the program board, facilitating applied learning sessions, and coming to your doorstep to recruit. If those stars are aligned, recent and senior alumni will be embedded in the organizations you want to work for. They will take pride in making the relevant introductions and internal recommendations for you, guiding you through the interviewing process, and coaching you through your internship and career at the company. All of the companies I mentioned above led impressive 2+ hour workshops and case discussions in my 30-person brand management courses, which functioned as both invaluable learning experiences and practical interview opportunities. That’s gold.

A few final notes on location before we depart.

Where are big tech companies opening offices today? NOT in the storied hubs, where fixed and variable costs are highest. Even Austin is getting expensive. Look to the Midwest for future big tech investment and job opportunities. Secondly, while tech innovation has focused primarily on consumer applications, industrial applications present enormous earnings potential, and the heart of American high-tech manufacturing is right here in the Midwest. Even closer to home, the Milwaukee Tech Hub is making moves, with 60-member corporations, and a mission of doubling tech talent in the area at speed. All of this is to say that, for budding tech talent and all seekers of quality of life (value, remember?), Madison’s location is best considered an asset.

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With 9 years of experience in retail and technology brand strategy, product management and business development, Charlie Scott is an alumnus of Dartmouth College (2011) and a recent Brand & Product Management MBA graduate from the Wisconsin School of Business (2022).