Value of an MBA in a crisis

Anke Dassler
Anke Dassler

What is the value of an MBA in a crisis? We spoke to Anke Dassler, who graduated from ESMT Berlin in 2008, months before the start of the global financial crisis

The current economic forecast is fairly bleak, making it a particularly uncertain time to apply for business school.

Anke Dassler can understand how prospective students might be feeling. She enrolled on the MBA program at ESMT Berlin. Job prospects disappeared, but she managed to keep her job at KPMG. She now works for Evonik, a chemicals company in Germany. 

We spoke to Anke about the lessons she learned from the experience of graduating from business school during a crisis, and asked about her advice for prospective students. 

What was the climate like back in 2008 for MBAs?

When Lehman Brothers crashed in September, this was a signal. None of us had experienced a situation like that, we had all been raised under economic certainty, and then suddenly you realise that they can crash. Towards the end of 2008, it was quite shocking. 

What you must keep in mind is that ESMT Berlin, in 2008, was only three years old. We were the third class, the whole school was quite an experiment, and it didn’t have the reputation which it has at the moment. It was basically a startup. 

Two things that came together—there was the crisis, but also people wondering what we signed up to, we could have gone to Stanford, but now we can’t find jobs. What was the MBA worth at all?

It was quite depressing, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of international students who came to the school with the intent to stay in Europe or Germany, and work for a big company, and all of them had a hard time to get jobs or even get interviews. It took some of our class six to eight months to find a job back then. It was quite difficult. 

What were your key takeaways and lessons learned?

When you do an MBA, you see a lot of cases of when companies struggle. We had lots of masterclasses with c-suite level executives from German companies, talked about how they failed, and what it felt like.

If you have a lot of this, it puts things in perspective. Things can happen, it’s always a matter of finding inner balance and strength to go through this. It was definitely a crisis, but there are always other things you have to think about. It meant even more that these experiences were shared by other experienced professionals. 

What advice would you give to prospective students?

The level of uncertainty is comparable. We don’t know how bad it’s going to be, the difference I think is the magnitude. 

On a personal level, though, it’s comparable. You always look at yourself first and think about where you’re going, so you just have to build up resilience and go through it somehow.

Is now a good time to apply to business school?

I would advise people to think long term. If you’re planning an MBA, do it. Who knows, next year could be even worse. 

If you’re in the middle of one already, you should just follow your plans. The investment is always worth it. You’ve probably made up your mind for a reason—like if you’ve quit your job. 

The economy will pick up. I would advise someone to look for those case studies, masterclasses, where you can learn from managers about how they acted in tough situations. For me, the MBA is a great place to do that. 

This article was originally published by BusinessBecause on May 26, 2020, and republished with permission.