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School daze?

Flexible programs allow entrepreneurs to continue their education while running a business

By Robyn A. Friedman

Lang C. Tarrant values education. After graduating from the College of Charleston and pursuing a career in commercial real estate, the 36-year-old entrepreneur completed a curriculum that earned him a CCIM designation (Certified Commercial Investment Member) for his expertise in the commercial and investment real estate industry. He also fulfilled the educational requirements to receive the prestigious SIOR designation (Society of Industrial and Office Realtors).

Not content to sit on his laurels, Tarrant, managing director of Tarrant Commercial Real Estate in Jacksonville, recently enrolled in an accelerated MBA program at Jacksonville University (JU). This semester, he attends class from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and works the remainder of the week. The accelerated MBA program at JU takes 12 months to complete and costs approximately $25,000.

“I’m a firm believer in continuing education,” said Tarrant. “I’ve reached the pinnacle in the commercial real estate end of continuing education, so the next step was to get the MBA—that was always a personal goal of mine.”

Tarrant had been hoping to get the MBA for some time, which he said would “further solidify me as the business executive running this company,” but the active commercial real estate market in Florida prevented him from doing so. Now that the market has cooled, however, he can fit the classes into his schedule.

Most companies—56 percent, according to the Society for Human Resource Management—offer graduate educational assistance benefits to their employees. This type of educational assistance not only helps the employee but also benefits the employer, which gains a more educated workforce. Additional education also helps employees increase productivity, improves employee morale and reduces turnover.

But continued education is just as vital to small business owners, who need to keep their skills sharp—and develop new ones—to compete in an ever-changing global economy. And even if small business owners are technically competent in their own professions, they may lack management experience, preventing them from taking their businesses to the next level. Tarrant, for example, said that the finance, accounting and computer classes he’s taking help to complete his knowledge base.

“There is no such thing as standing still,” said Candace Moody, vice president of WorkSource, the regional workforce development organization in Jacksonville. “If you’re in a business or industry that’s constantly changing—and what industry isn’t—you absolutely need to make lifelong learning part of your business plan.”

Moody said that an advanced education can help small business owners position themselves as more current in their field. Plus, customers with educational credentials may actually seek out those with similar credentials for vendors or partners.

There are two ways to approach education, Moody said. You can focus on getting credentials that will resonate with customers and prospects, or you can choose to fill gaps in your own experience that will allow you to make substantial changes in the way you operate. “Either way, do your homework,” she added. “Look for a program that is accredited and that has high quality instructions and high academic standards.”

Fortunately, colleges and universities are increasingly developing flexible programs that allow business owners to advance their education.

The Davis College of Business at Jacksonville University offers several programs that lead to an MBA. Tarrant is enrolled in the school’s accelerated day program, which takes 12 months.

There’s also a Flex program, with classes in the evening. “You can take as many or as few courses as you can handle,” said Mary Anne Waikart, director of graduate programs at Davis. Students must have three years of work experience to enroll, and the program takes 18 months to five years to complete. It costs about $25,000.

A third alternative is the Executive MBA program, for students with at least 10 years of work experience. Classes are every other Friday afternoon and Saturday, and the program takes 17 months. It costs about $49,000.

The University of North Florida’s Coggin College of Business also offers MBA programs for students who work full-time. According to UNF’s website, most of the 600 students in its MBA program are working professionals, but about 20 percent are full-time students. A typical student takes two courses each term while working full-time. To be accessible, graduate classes are offered in the afternoon and evening; some are even offered on weekends.

Misha Gryb, 27, is president of YanaEx Inc., a Jacksonville company that develops, designs and manufactures products for the food and pharmaceutical industries. He enrolled in the Flex MBA program at JU in October and attends class every Monday night for three hours. He expects to earn his degree in two years.

“I wanted to gain more knowledge in finance, accounting, marketing and human resources,” Gryb said. “This degree will help me improve the performance of my business. That’s the main reason I’m going back to school.”

Gryb’s wife, Ashley Testa, who also works full-time, is enrolled in the Flex MBA program as well. Attending classes with his wife helps him to better juggle the responsibilities of work, family and school.

Indeed, achieving balance may be one of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs who go back to school. After all, it’s difficult enough to balance work and family; for students, school is thrown into the mix as well.

Students need “an extreme amount of time management as well as a supportive staff and family,” Waikart said.

Still, MBA students say it’s all worth it. “I did the analysis, and I think it will not only improve my productivity but also open other business opportunities and give me a competitive edge,” said Tarrant. “It’s just another arrow in my quiver.”

Robyn A. Friedman is a contributing writer to Advantage. She can be reached at RAFWriter@att.net.


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