Op-Ed: Entrepreneurs should head back to business school

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 12:46pm

Take chances. Take the job other people don’t want and make a success out of it. Get your hands dirty. Listen to those who can mentor you and save you from repeating mistakes made by others.

These are the lessons I learned while earning my MBA at the Ross School of Business that have served me well through the turns of my 20-year career in the food service, consumer products, technology and retail arenas with companies including The Coca-Cola Company, KFC, Intel and, today, Cinnabon.

One of the key moments of insight came for me during my MBA program when I founded Mcorp, an internationally focused volunteer student organization. At the time, I was simply looking for a way to spend the last Spring Break of my student career. So, I decided to build a new student organization and organize a volunteer trip to Belize. I wanted to unite our classes while raising awareness around social responsibility. I pitched my idea to the administration and was funded $5,500 to get the operation off the ground. Much to my surprise, more than 20 people committed and joined me for a week of philanthropy, self-growth and team building.

Moments like this can be the building blocks of your career. The positive response to Mcorp showed me that it pays to try something different and to put yourself out there with your ideas. Don’t count on an organization to map out your career. Chart your own path.

Experiences like Mcorp are why I decided to take control of my career, starting with pursuing an MBA. Talent and skill separate us from our peers, but learning and implementing the principles of leadership move us to a higher plane in our careers and beyond typical achievements.

I took the lessons from Mcorp and other experiences with me as I worked at Coca-Cola as the vice president of global business development and later as the vice president of vending operations for North America. Trust me, no one was champing at the bit to run the vending business. It was tedious and could easily have become the company’s dinosaur business without some TLC and focus on problem solving by investing in new technology. What most saw as daunting, I saw as an opportunity. We threw out the familiar approaches and reversed double-digit sales declines and franchise losses. The result propelled my career onto an executive track.

My MBA experience also greatly informed me about how to build a team. Too often organizations get caught in the habit of hiring someone with the same experience and skills for a given role without considering someone with different industry experience or from a larger operation. As president of Cinnabon, I am constantly looking to improve the organization by hiring people outside the food service arena with a fresh perspective.

Embracing new opportunities, reevaluating existing ones and recognizing the value of diverse teams has defined my career. My MBA experience reinforced these instincts by showing me the importance of teamwork and encouraging new ideas and taking chances. I want people willing to put themselves and their ideas “out there.”

So forge your own path, take on challenges that others won't, recognize the strength of succeeding as a team and you’ll put yourself in a position to meet your current career goals and hit goals you haven’t even dreamed of yet.

Joe Guith is president of Cinnabon and an alum of the Ross School of Business.