How an MBA Is a Pivotal Step in Starting a Small Business
Business Solutions Michael Won, the co-founder of the online men’s fashion shop, Dapper in Deed, opens up about his road to successfully managing a small business.
Business school wasn’t originally part of the plan. But once Michael Won had his MBA in-hand, it unleashed a passion for impactful entrepreneurship. Here, he explains how it all came together.
First and foremost, what motivated you to pursue an MBA?
Michael Won: My motivation to pursue an MBA was unconventional. It had little to do with career advancement and everything to do with personal fulfillment. I’m a son of immigrant parents who moved to the U.S. in the late 1960s. I was born into an American family with high cultural expectations based on my heritage, but I was academically unmotivated for most of my life. I knew I was capable of much more. The Pepperdine Graziadio MBA program presented an opportunity to push myself, achieve my potential and open doors of opportunity.
What advice would you give to prospective students looking to pursue an MBA?
Some prospective students think that an MBA program is a means to an end — a degree. I’d suggest that a singular focus on getting a diploma will limit your experience. The true value of a quality graduate education comes from being open to growth, surrounding yourself with people who challenge you and setting yourself apart as a leader. Business school is an opportunity to establish your personal brand and then carry that brand into the business world.
What should they be looking for in a potential degree program?
First, look at how well a potential school carries out its mission. Consider whether it invests in students and cares about its alumni. Your relationship with your University should be a mutually beneficial, lifelong partnership.
Second, don’t choose an area of study just because you’ve worked in that field. Look for schools that will push you out of your comfort zone and help you become who you want to be, rather than who you were in the past. Finally, find a school that minimizes stress and is flexible enough to accommodate your time commitments and personal life.
“'Don’t let uncertainty hold you back. Much like the business world, you will have the ability to pivot and shift course in the program.'”
What was most important to you when choosing the school and degree to pursue?
For me, convenience was paramount. I needed a flexible program that fit my lifestyle as an entrepreneur, which is rarely 9-to-5. I found that Pepperdine Graziadio had a campus close to me that offered a part-time MBA program for working professionals. I felt like I had found the best of both worlds — a business school with a top-tier reputation and distinguished brand that was also small and personal enough to give me a sense of family and connection with fellow students, alumni and professors.
What is the most unique aspect of pursuing an MBA at Pepperdine? Pepperdine Graziadio has cachet based on its mission and commitment to developing values-centered leaders. Given its prestige, I was surprised to find that I had the opportunity to develop personal relationships with my professors, who quickly became invested in me and my future success. I’m close with friends with former professors who live near me, and when I am near the campus, I always try to catch up with instructors. This unique access to faculty — long after graduation — benefits business operations. Alumni call it the “lifelong learning element,” part of the return on investment in your business education.
What advice would you give to a prospective student who wants to pursue an MBA but is not yet sure what field they are looking to go into after graduation?
Don’t let uncertainty hold you back. Much like the business world, you will have the ability to pivot and shift course in the program. The first couple semesters will allow you opportunities to take courses in different fields so you can explore and find what you are most passionate about. More importantly, don’t be limited to choosing a school based on your work history, unless you are 100 percent satisfied or your current employer is paying your tuition. The wide range of study options in today’s MBA programs provides a great opportunity to refresh your career.
In terms of your career, where do you hope to be in 5 years?
I believe for-profit companies can do as much to benefit society as nonprofits. When my business partner and I started Dapper in Deed, we sought to prove this model by creating sustainable jobs in the poverty-stricken communities of our partner nonprofit organizations. I’m also working on a new social entrepreneurship business with fellow Graziadio alums, called Sire Mobile, which can hopefully provide utility to schools and charities.
I hope to help other brands navigate this paradigm shift, from a singular focus on profit to a focus on responsible profit, and “doing good” through social entrepreneurism contagious to the greater community.