Online MBA programs are booming. How do you choose the right one?

    2022 was the first year that there were more students in online MBA programs than their in-person peers. Those numbers are unlikely to change anytime soon as the number of accredited institutions offering online MBA programs has skyrocketed 85% since 2017. That’s a significant shift, and it shows the continued importance of an MBA program, but are full-time programs still the best option?

    Ahmed Shabana, founder of Instapill and general manager of Parkpine Capital, urges prospective students to keep full-time MBA programs in mind. “There is a huge benefit to getting it done in one year, as opposed to two years for online courses,” says Shabana, a graduate of USC’s IBEAR MBA program. “If you’re entrepreneurial, you’ll be able to start your business faster, without missing out on the full value of an MBA degree.”

    In this interview, Mr. Shabana shares his view on the value that full-time one-year programs provide, as well as his view on the state of crypto in 2023, the rising importance of Southeast Asia as a supply chain hub, and the power of networks in a renowned MBA program.

    Why was it important to you to choose an MBA program that lasted one year, rather than two?

    If you are over 30 and have industry experience, you should consider forgoing the internship. I came into the IBEAR MBA program at USC after launching the first e-commerce pharmacy way back in 2006. That meant I had the industry knowledge you can only get through experience, but still had the drive to go above and beyond. learn what I could from my courses.

    Still, I knew I wanted to continue my entrepreneurship journey after graduation. A one-year program is certainly intensive, especially if you study full-time, but I still recommend it. You’re less likely to drop out because you’re focused on the job, and the research habits you build will last a lifetime.

    What were your biggest lessons learned during the MBA program when you launched Instapill?

    The supply chain courses have been invaluable to me, especially as an e-commerce founder. The business case studies for Zara’s just-in-time model were particularly influential. It’s fascinating to see how the model has held up since 2020 in the face of supply chain disruptions, and how things have evolved.

    Talk to me about those disruptions: how have they impacted the way you run your business?

    We’ve seen tremendous benefit from building supply chain connections in Southeast Asia in support of our global and US operations. Much of our inventory has been in high demand over the years: personal protective equipment, medical supplies, sanitizer – making sure those supplies end up in the right hands is easier when you have trusted supply partners.

    At the moment, growth in Southeast Asia is accelerating faster than in China. Some of that has to do with trade restrictions, but there’s also a huge pull for digital nomads to work from a place like Bali. It’s something we’ve seen firsthand.

    At the Asia-Pacific Business Forum, correct?

    That’s right. This was USC’s first in-person, international event since COVID, and they picked the perfect venue for it. As our program director, Dr. Richard Drobnick, put it, “friendships were renewed, new business opportunities were explored, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed their long-delayed, in-person conversations.” The networking opportunities you get from an MBA program are one of the most important parts of your education.

    Can you give an example?

    While on the forum, I reconnected with some of the industry veterans in the Asia Pacific venture capital and supply chain markets. You learn a lot from such a network experience. An Indonesian colleague of mine in the glass supply chain said he saw his business quadruple due to certain trade restrictions between the US and other countries in Asia. You’d be amazed at the impact a US president can have on markets around the world. Understanding the impact of those disruptions is critical to making decisions.

    Have you seen similar disruptions in the crypto market?

    We are still conservatively invested in blockchain and crypto investments at Parkpine Capital. We believe that the funds that failed or failed due to poor operations or high risk do not undermine the usefulness of the technology.

    What would you say to someone interested in starting their own business and considering an MBA program?

    Don’t get too caught up in customizing your MBA experience. Sure, you can choose your own electives, but not every program can be tailored to every student, and that’s a good thing. I’ve learned so much from film producer lectures on the USC IBEAR MBA program, and I don’t even work in the film industry. There is a level of insight you can gain from experts that makes being part of an MBA program memorable, and as valuable as a learning experience.

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