Viewpoint: Life Lessons

Jay B. Myers
(Image credit: Future)

I remember going to business school classes back in the late 70s and working on my degree in marketing management. I think it was in the middle of my first semester that I quickly realized that I was learning so much about how a business works beyond marketing. Like most universities, there were required courses like accounting, finance, business law, statistics, and advertising, Those were some important aspects of business for sure, but what were they really teaching?

Back to School

(Image credit: Future)

It didn’t take long to figure out that I was being taught business fundamentals that could be particularly useful when working for a large Fortune 500 corporation. While most of my business classes covered the basic aspects of business very well, and I learned the “lingo” in a short amount of time, none of my classes covered any issues related to working for myself or running my own show. Owning your own business and becoming an entrepreneur was neither encouraged nor taught by business schools in those days. Way too risky.

[Pro AV Labor Pains]

When I was in business school, students were encouraged to work for IBM, Xerox, or one of the Big Eight accounting firms. The game plan in those days was career stability; work for somebody else and pay your dues to get vested or retire. Back then, businesspeople viewed an entrepreneur as someone who couldn’t find a "real" job.

No Lesson Plan

Now, don’t get me wrong: Graduating from business school was an important phase of my maturity process and professional career, and I met a lot of great people. I also learned a lot of things about people and the world of business that I would never been exposed to otherwise. But almost everything that was being taught was by the book. It was more textbook cases of business situations and problems—and very little real-world business scenarios.

[On Your Business: Avoid Friction with Effective Management]

For example, it’s one thing to discuss accounts payable and company financials in a college accounting class. But it’s an entirely different thing when you are faced with a potentially catastrophic situation with your company’s financials that involved your company’s accounting manager stealing $250,00, which included a significant number of forged checks and illegal money transfers—and, by the way, almost put your company out of business.

College Classroom with Students

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How do you handle that? How do you teach how to handle real life?  How do you to teach how to recognize employee embezzlement? Talk about something they don’t teach you in business school!

Or how about having to buy out your business partner when your company was just a year old and still losing money?  How about in that same business divorce, once you paid off all the company and partnership debt, you were left with a whopping $50,000 to fund your company for the future? Not much tolerance for error, for sure.

Expect the Unexpected

Looking back, earning a business degree helped me to build a successful company I could be proud of for many years. The truth is that business schools are great at teaching fundamentals, which are useful for many students to get a job and start on a career path.

[Viewpoint: What's Your Professional Mindset?]

But so many things can and will happen when you own your own company, especially in the hyper-competitive world of AV integration. My motto when I owned my own integration company was to always expect the unexpected—and in my 23 years as a business owner, that motto was tested literally on a daily basis.

I still think of what my former marketing teacher and business school dean told me when I was frustrated with some grades I received. You see, I was never a scholar, but I did work my way through school, graduated debt free, and was proud of all those Cs and my 2.34 GPA.

My instructor pulled me aside one day when he felt it was time to give me some sage advice. “Jay," he told me, "it's pretty simple. In business school, the A students end up teaching school, the B students end up in human resources, and the C students like you make all the money because you’re gregarious, a good networker, and have people skills." Not sure if he intended it to be a compliment, but I sure took it that way.

Cheat Sheet

  1. Earning a business degree is an important first step in understanding the business world.
  2. Business degrees provide a good basic background and understanding for business fundamentals, but by no means replace real experience.
  3. Graduating from business school is all about the maturity process, and can provide valuable networking contacts for many years in the future.
  4. Don’t overrate earning your business degree. You set a goal and achieved it. Good for you—implement the same strategy in your career and you can’t help but be successful.
Jay B. Myers

Jay B. Myers is the founder and CEO of Interactive Solutions, which was sold to AVI-SPL in the fall of 2018. He is the author of Keep Swinging: An Entrepreneur’s Story of Overcoming Adversity and Achieving Small Business Success and Hitting the Curveballs: How Crisis Can Strengthen and Grow Your Business.