Staring at the hundreds of Thanksgiving orders I need to type in, I’ll play hooky for a little while to think about the topic the Delaware Business Times asked me to write about: Do you really need an MBA to be successful in small business? Someone might look at what I am working on today and say no. In fact, I might agree — you don’t need an MBA to be successful, but it sure helps.
Before I applied to business school, I was working as a software developer in San Francisco, Calif. I loved my job and it took me all over the world, including extended stays in Singapore and Australia. I worked the typical long hours of the software industry — even a couple overnight stays in my office. While I had previously never considered coming back into my family’s grocery business, I started to think about my parents. They worked as hard as I did, but it was for themselves. All those long hours and strategy sessions could be for my own business — not someone else’s.
I didn’t just want to come back to Janssen’s Market to be “the boss’s daughter.” I wanted to bring new ideas and ways of operating. I saw ways to professionalize the business and grow while keeping the core of what made Janssen’s successful for so many years. An MBA seemed like a great way to learn in a short time new skills and strategies to bring to the business.
I was lucky at Wharton in that I knew what my job was going to be after business school so I didn’t have to worry about those pesky job interviews. I could immerse myself in everything Wharton had to offer — business plan competitions, speaker series and volunteering. I took all types of classes — finance, entrepreneurship, human capital, operations, marketing, even real estate. One of my favorite classes was case studies of family businesses. We learned about how and why some companies have succeeded over generations where others couldn’t.
After I graduated and joined my family’s business, people would ask me doubtfully whether I was using anything I learned in business school. I use my education on a day-to-day basis — probably more than my peers who are working on Wall Street. While I may not go as deeply into any one area as they do, the breadth of skills I learned helps me leap frog years of learning through experience. I am a better consumer of outside consultants because I understand what they do. An entrepreneur wears many hats, but a good entrepreneur knows when to bring in skilled outside help. My business school education has been invaluable in those decisions.
Since I joined Janssen’s Market in 2004, the business has more than doubled in size and annual revenues. Ninety employees depend on me to make decisions that ensure that they can feed their families. My family relies on me to preserve and grow our largest asset and maintain our reputation within the community. Do I need an MBA to be successful? No, but it sure does help. Every day.
Paula Janssen is general manager of Janssen’s Market, which has been a Greenville destination for fine and gourmet foods for more than 50 years.