Sandy (Sandra) Dias is doing a Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA. She has more than 10 years of sales experience and has spent the past six years working for L'Oréal Canada. She is both a national key account manager and a district manager for Quebec and Ontario boutiques for the luxury brand, Kiehl's Since 1851.
When I started the EMBA, I met a student from the previous year's cohort. She had had to step away from a class the previous year for work reasons and was re-taking accounting to complete her EMBA at Schulich. Over the next two classes we bombarded her with questions: What would the impact of the EMBA be like long-term? Was the Schulich-Kellogg degree worthwhile? What were some of the benefits she'd experienced so far? What international electives were the best? … And, of course, which class did she struggle with the most?
"Get a finance tutor," was her no-nonsense response to the hardest class. I didn't understand how a professional with her own international company could possibly struggle with a basic finance class. However, after taking that class and the subsequent classes in module 2, I understand. It's not the single finance class that is hard to pass; if you put in some effort, you will get the grades needed. However, every class afterward refers to bits and pieces of finance: accounting, marketing; strategy, etc. Furthermore, the expectation is that you are so comfortable with the concepts, it's assumed you are comfortable building on them.
If you cannot get beyond the formulas, and fundamentally understand finance, you will be facing a very steep uphill battle going forward. Of course, I speak to the students (such as myself) who haven't had any exposure to finance and were taking notes on how to "clear" a finance calculator in the first class. What is daunting is that finance is not a sexy read. It's dry, and parts are boring and not easy to understand. For example, when given cases, you will have to decipher what information is pertinent and look for hidden information within the case. Understanding how to interpret the information given to you and making sure you know how to apply it to the case is key. In addition, it takes practice before you feel at ease. Unfortunately, given the amount of work at school, and my work life outside of school, doing the homework was nearly impossible. However, I decided to painfully revisit all the homework exercises the professor assigned over my upcoming break (we do get July off, after all) because it's too important a subject to just pass!
I was surprised by how many peers jumped at the idea of getting a study group going. The enthusiasm came from knowing we are going to start global electives at Kellogg in August and (YIKES!) need to get finance buttoned down or risk being very lost in Module 3. I was encouraged when a peer who worked in finance also wanted in. Many of us have never been exposed to this type of financial thinking: the bones of a company, analysis of capital investments, decision making on which projects to finance, financial hedging and streamlining operations. It occurred to us all that, at this level, it is no longer about passing the class (like in our undergraduate studies) but about really owning the subject.
So, yes, get a tutor. I lucked out and had strong team members for the group project and generous peers who helped with questions and concerns along the way. And when I think of the studying I will do in July, I feel it is an investment now so that I don't pay for it later. At Kellogg it will be a whole new group of peers, new assigned groups and (sigh) I may be the one "strongest" in finance and will not have the crutch I had this past module. I had better know my stuff - and I recommend you do, too, if you plan to study in a graduate business program.
Special to The Globe and Mail