Specialize to stand out

MBA students at McGill University are pursuing specialized skills to gain a competitive edge.

“These days, it’s not enough to have an MBA,” reflects Dr. John-Paul Ferguson, Academic Director of the MBA Program at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. “Employers want to know you have an MBA and a particular set of skills.”

As part of an ambitious redesign of its MBA program, McGill will increase the number of specializations offered to students beginning in Fall 2020. "We estimate that 80 to 90 percent of incoming students will choose to specialize in order to market themselves more effectively,” says Ferguson.

Analyzing the Marketplace

With a background in engineering, Zafer Zeren enrolled in McGill’s MBA program with a vision for translating his analytical skills into a career in the business world. “Highly analytical people who can both understand the business side of an organization and communicate their ideas are in short supply in many industries,” he’s observed throughout his professional career. To become one of these rare hybrids, he turned to the Desautels Faculty of Management.

“Over the course of two years, my specialization in Business Analytics combined theoretical knowledge of advanced statistical techniques with practical instruction in programming languages,” says Zafer. “Acquiring these skills while learning the fundamentals of management, organizational psychology, and effective presentation techniques put me in a competitive position for my future career.”

A Business Analytics specialization gives Zafer a unique advantage in a city like Montreal, which has become a hotspot for artificial intelligence and machine learning in the past decade. After completing his MBA, Zafer landed a position as a senior consultant at Fusion Analytics, a data-driven consulting firm. “In my current role, I experience the benefits of my MBA courses every day,” he affirms. While Zafer honed the hard skills required in an analytical position, he also makes ample use of the soft skills he gleaned from his degree. “Because I took classes that covered a wide range of topics, in addition to my specialization, I can identify the impact of our analysis on different departments of a company and curate a better strategy for my clients,” he explains.

In Zafer’s experience, employers in burgeoning fields like business analytics don’t look for employees with extensive experience in the workplace. “They look for a passion for the field and the ability to learn quickly,” he believes. “Earning an MBA with a specialization is a way to demonstrate these traits.”

Starting from Scratch

While students like Zafer choose MBA specializations that appeal to potential employers, others specialize in preparation to become their own boss. Julio Castañeda, a marketing executive from Mexico City, chose to specialize in Marketing in order to launch his career in Canada. “During my MBA studies at McGill, I discovered my passion for retail innovation and entrepreneurship,” shares Julio. Even before graduating, he and a classmate founded Turbodega, a startup that uses a software management tool to connect Latin American bodegas with a virtual network of distributors. Today, Turbodega serves more than 1,000 bodegas and counting.

“From value creation to marketing strategy, the content I learned in my MBA has been incredibly useful in this venture,” Julio affirms. “For example, I’m currently applying a methodology that I learned in one of my courses to improve the efficiency of marketing activities. Becoming an entrepreneur has been the most fulfilling experience of my life.”

This year, McGill will add a new specialization in Entrepreneurship to its current list of options, which include Global Strategy and Leadership, Finance, Business Analytics, and Marketing. “We’re updating specializations quickly in response to market changes,” says Dr. Ferguson.

“The companies where our students work are demanding well-honed skills in financial technology, data analysis, artificial intelligence, design thinking, and other topics that are not historically covered in much detail within business schools. At McGill, we’re committed to meeting that demand.”


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