From Companies to the Classroom
One entrepreneur’s story of finding his second career in education and why an MBA is still worth it
By Emerald Morrow
Pursuing your MBA requires planning, strategy and, most of all, drive. And sticking with it for the long term can only get harder when you consider the level of diversity, not just in the corporate world, but also within academia itself.
Lack of diversity in the academic world – according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only seven 7 percent of all college faculty members are Black – can be a limiting factor for some considering whether to pursue an MBA. But just as people of color make are making wider inroads into corporate America, some MBAs are also staying in education to ensure the next generation moves forward.
One example is Steven Rogers, a Harvard MBA who teaches entrepreneurial finance in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program at Northwestern University’s prestigious Kellogg School of Management and serves as head of the entire entrepreneurship department.
Though quick to respond with humility when praised for his expansive list of academic, corporate and entrepreneurial accomplishments, Rogers, an award-winning professor, businessman and author, realizes the unique position of power and influence he holds. His accomplishments were a byproduct of his hard work throughout his personal life and professional career.
Prior to joining Kellogg, Rogers owned two lampshade manufacturing companies and one retail operation. He was invited to speak to a class of Kellogg students about his experiences as an MBA-holding business owner. His speech was well-received, and consequently, he was asked by the Kellogg staff if he would like to teach some courses at the school. He was interested but said he didn’t want to follow the traditional route of earning a Ph.D.; instead, he wanted to become a professor after taking the road to entrepreneurial success.
It was then that Dean Emeritus Donald Jacobs (who at that point was active dean of the Kellogg School) asked Rogers if he would like to teach his favorite class, entrepreneurial finance. Rogers accepted, and he taught while simultaneously running his businesses. “I loved it,” says Rogers. “I sold my companies; [Kellogg] hired me to be full-time faculty, teaching five classes a year; and after my first year of teaching, I was selected by the students to be the professor of the year for the entire school.”
Students at Kellogg are so fond of Rogers and his teaching style that most of his classes are standing room only. “I don’t think Steve knows what a small class is because he’s never had one, to my knowledge,” says Jacobs.
Described as a stalwart by both students and colleagues, Rogers also is known for his hard-hitting tactics in the classroom. “Professor Rogers is tough,” says 29-year-old Susan Edwards, a former student of Rogers’. “Everyone knows that he’s tough. People go into the class scared,” she continues. “But I think we want that because he’s only trying to make us better.”
Edwards says Rogers grills students during class to make sure they’re confident in everything they’re communicating and that they’ve done the proper research. This, says Edwards, reinforces the point that if you don’t feel confident, then no one will feel confident in what you’re saying. “He [tries] to build us up so we can face any challenge,” she explains. “I think that’s what students appreciate. They like knowing that he really cares about their success.”
CHOOSING THE RIGHT MODEL AND BUILDING A FOUNDATION
Part of being an effective educator is teaching others to see the world through a new lens and with a critical eye. One of Rogers’ missions, especially for the African-American community, is to push aspiring business owners to move from a “mom-and-pop” model of entrepreneurship to one of high growth and wealth creation.
According to Rogers, a high-growth entrepreneur is one who will write and implement a formal business plan with the objective being wealth creation. “I am privileged to have the opportunity to have a system [at Kellogg] that feeds me with people who already have that mindset,” he explains. “They want to create meaningful-sized companies.” When he’s not teaching students from Kellogg, Rogers says he often has to explain the differences between these two types of entrepreneurs (mom-and-pop and high-growth), especially when he is working with African-American audiences. “High-growth entrepreneurship is about more than making enough money to earn a living,” he says.
Rogers has been a businessman nearly his entire life and credits his upbringing with helping prepare him to be an entrepreneur. He straddled the two vastly different worlds of welfare and business success during his childhood and speaks from experience about the importance of high-growth entrepreneurship. His mother was a single parent who owned used furniture stores and sold antiques. “Literally, from the time I was 12 years old, I was running a used furniture store. My mother would leave the [store] for the day, and I would be in charge of running it and managing it.”
Growing up in an entrepreneurial environment groomed Rogers for his current success, but what he saw as a child proved to be valuable lessons in both the “do’s and don’ts” of successful business ownership. “On one hand, my mother was an entrepreneur. On the other hand, during some of the time in my childhood, she was on welfare. So I lived in both worlds. I was not endowed. I did not have the privilege of having assets behind me,” says Rogers. “My mother was making money so that we could live, pay our bills and so forth. She never had the mindset of wealth creation that comes from planning and being exposed to those who had great success as a result of building.”
So while Rogers was groomed to be an entrepreneur, he realized that in order to be successful, he needed formal training in business beyond what a mom-and-pop operation could offer. “I needed a foundation in business that was different than what I had gotten from my mother,” he observes. “With my mother, the experience was very haphazard. My mother never finished high school. That was a good baptism, but I needed a stronger and a deeper baptism.”
Rogers built his foundation working at Cummins Engine Company and Bain & Company consulting firm. “I am not one who believes that people should necessarily go out and do on-the-job training, learning business fundamentals while becoming an entrepreneur instantaneously,” he says. “I believe that everyone should learn on someone else’s dollar. That’s a model I strongly advocate today.”
After he graduated college, Rogers realized his personal happiness and satisfaction were not going to come from working for someone else, so he made up his mind to be an entrepreneur: “I’ve been nurtured to be an entrepreneur, and it’s in my blood.”
DOING GOOD THINGS FOR SOCIETY
In the wake of recent Wall Street scandals and the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Rogers says he is embarrassed by the behavior of businesspeople and the distrust they have inspired in the American people. “It’s been disappointing to see everything that’s been happening on Wall Street,” he admits, “but we like to believe that what we do at Kellogg is something different than what is shown from those people on Wall Street who have MBAs [and] who have done some deceptive things. We are in the business of teaching good people who want to do good things for society.”
Rogers stresses that Kellogg is uninterested in admitting students whose goal it is to make the most money by any means necessary. “We have never embraced that type of philosophy. That’s why Kellogg is the only school out of our peer schools that interviews 100 percent of our applicants,” he says. “We want good people. We want people who are intellectually brilliant, people who are selfless and people who care about someone other than themselves. If a person applies and they have outstanding GPA, they score perfect on the GMAT, but they are a jerk and they are only interested in money, we won’t accept them.”
EARNING AN MBA IS STILL THE WAY TO GO
Rogers is quick to tout the value of an MBA. “The beauty of the MBA is it provides a safe environment for you to learn,” he says. “Learn finance skills. Learn how to value a company in the classroom. Learn how to create and implement a marketing plan. It provides you the training ground to learn the fundamentals that will determine your success.”
Rogers blames entrepreneurial failure on lack of training, observing that lack of formal training and education results in too much on-the-job training. “What happens as a result of on-the-job training? A lot of mistakes get made, and a lot of money gets wasted, and therefore the business fails,” he says.
To prove his point, Rogers gives an example of entrepreneurs without MBAs whom he instructs through executive training programs. He says they consistently belabor how they wish they would have grasped core business skills like cash flow management before starting their own companies. Earning an MBA teaches those fundamentals, says Rogers, and it also exposes students to people who are great resources, classmates who can help them grow their companies. “The MBA is one of the most valuable tools than an entrepreneur can have,” he explains. “I am a strong advocate of continuous education, and the smart entrepreneur is the entrepreneur who realizes learning never stops. They embrace the whole concept of lifelong learning.”
COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF AN MBA
The economic downturn left many people in financial dire straits, and the high cost of an MBA might be a strong deterrent to students and professionals considering earning the degree. Others might argue they can’t afford to leave their jobs for two years and take on debt for an advanced education. But still, Rogers remains a staunch supporter of the MBA. “I have counseled many people to leave their full-time jobs to come to business school,” he says. He has it all figured out in a 3-to-1 cost/benefit analysis. Over the next 30 years, for every one dollar invested, Rogers says you’ll get three in return.
“Your earnings over that period of time, had you not gone to business school, will at least be 50 percent less. There is a huge difference between the earnings power over a lifetime of an MBA versus a non-MBA,” he points out. And as for those who say they can’t afford to leave work to go to business school, Rogers calls that a short-term-focus mindset. “You have to be willing to invest in your future,” he says. “There has to be a willingness to make short-term sacrifices.”
Rogers concludes that it is imperative that African-Americans pursue high-growth entrepreneurship, because this will stimulate jobs for the black community. “I travel the world giving speeches titled Entrepreneurs Are My Personal Heroes and ‘She-roes,’” he says. “Entrepreneurs do good for society by doing well for themselves. They create jobs for other people. People who have jobs are self-sufficient, and self-sufficient people live in healthier communities.”
Learn more about Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program at www.kellogg.northwestern.edu and www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/levyinstitute.
Emerald Morrow is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Mo.