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What Good Is an M.B.A.?

In the so-called new economy of the information technology boom, how important is an M.B.A.? A panel that tackled the topic in Silicon Valley in December agreed that an M.B.A. teaches critical thinking and provides a network—two key ingredients to success in the dot-com start-up world.

This was good news, no doubt, to the 300 first- and second-years attending the panel as part of West Quest, a student trip that focused on networking events with West Coast alumni and companies. The panelists—moderator Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance; John Van Dyke, ’69, president of Dakota Water Systems and member of Band of Angels; Guy Nohra, ’89, general partner of Alta Partners; and Howard Graham, ’73, chief financial officer of Siebel Systems (see
“Siebel Funds Scholarships”)—offered their views on working in the high-tech world.

On leaving business school after one year to join or start a dot-com

Howard Graham: “That’s like asking if somebody should drop out [of college] their junior year and join the NBA. If you’ve got the ability and the opportunity it may make sense, but for 99.9 percent of people it would not.”

On starting a career in the high-tech industry

John Van Dyke: “People always ask me how to get a job in Silicon Valley. I tell them the only thing to do is move here, because when somebody needs people they want them tomorrow—they don’t want to wait around for six months. Six months is like five years the way time goes out here . . . . It may seem like an incredible risk to graduate from school and not have a job lined up on Wall Street, but it’s not. If you just get where the action is, and you’re suited for this, you’ll have a job offer in two weeks—especially talented M.B.A.’s who can bring business training and common sense to a company, especially if the rest of the people [in the company] are technically oriented.”

Guy Nohra: “Internet deals are not brain surgery. You need good training, a solid education, and common sense. It’s just a matter of talent and connections.”

On the role of M.B.A.’s in Silicon Valley

Howard Graham: “The ability to organize your thinking and to think critically about problems, anticipate them, and then articulate solutions is key. I think those traits and tools are fostered in a good business school.”

John Van Dyke: “A lot of the people that you deal with just know that they have a neat idea. They have no idea where the revenue’s coming from, or what the expenses are going to be associated with it.”

On networking

John Van Dyke: “Out in Silicon Valley, network is everything . . . You would be surprised at how eager people will be to help you or to help you meet other people . . . . And even in the bad job experiences, you learn so much. You learn all the way along and you get better and better at running businesses and being in business.”—Julie Landry
West quest bios

John Van Dyke, ’69, is president of Dakota Water Systems in San Mateo and a member of Band of Angels.

Guy Nohra, ’89, is general partner at Alta Partners in San Francisco.

Howard Graham, ’73, is senior vice president and chief financial officer of Siebel Systems Inc. in San Mateo.

Steven N. Kaplan (moderator) is Neubauer Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance.
Interested in venturing into the high tech world? Contact West Coast alumni through the GSB alumni club network.
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