Do you need an MBA to have a successful business?
Will a BA in Business suffice?
Or does a Liberal Arts education best prepare you for a career as an entrepreneur?
Scroll down to glean insight from 10 of our favorite entrepreneurs, who shine a light on the courses they charted on the path to owning a booming business.
Owner and co-founder,
Construction mogul Jim Bognet’s dad thought maybe his son would become a doctor. The lad was so good in math and science, it seemed a natural fit. The young Bognet thought differently. The family business was construction, and since he was 7 he had snapped on his little tool belt and headed out on jobs with his dad, Rocco, owner of the general and mechanical contracting firm Bognet, Inc.
As he grew, Bognet spent his summers as a laborer and estimator and operated heavy equipment until he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1988 from Pennsylvania State University. One of his professors was a vice president at the George Hyman Construction Company and helped him land a job with Tiber Construction. By 1991, Bognet was working for Oliver Carr, and by 1996 he was the director of the DC office for The Leapley Company.
That’s where Bognet met Jeff Kaiser. In 1998, the two leased office space for $500 per month in the basement of a Starbucks on MacArthur Boulevard in Washington, DC. Just over a decade later, they were standing at the helm of a $50 million firm that employs more than 50 people.
“We love construction and are relentless about delivering high-quality, on-time, on-budget solutions for our customers,” Bognet says. “Our goal is to continue to build this firm into a $150 million company in the next five years.”
Bognet says his advice to entrepreneurs follows six simple rules, which he calls the Bognet Way: B = Build long-term relationships, + O = Operate as one team, + G = Go the extra mile, + N = Never stop improving, + E = Engineer win-win solutions, + T = Take ownership.
“At Bognet, we will do whatever it takes to deliver on our promise,” the CEO explains. “Our executive team is highly engaged in every project. We are big enough to provide a full range of services and small enough that the executive team is involved in the details. We do what we say we will do, when we say we will do it.”
Learn more about how Jim Bognet built a multimillion-dollar construction company in the February 2010 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
President and CEO of Reston Limousine
Washington DC’s premier chauffeured transportation provider and one of the top 20 largest operators in the nation.
A graduate of George Washington University, with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs, Reston Limousine CEO Kristina Bouweiri did not study business in a formal college environment.
In addition to daily hands-on experience in all aspects of the company from the time she joined Reston Limousine, Bouweiri has expanded her business knowledge through two C-level advisory groups, networking, and keeping up with the latest business trends through electronic and print publications. She also joined a business book club in 2001, and since then has read more than 100 business books. “I am a lifelong learner and continuously strivesto improve myself and my team,” says Bouweiri.
Does she advise wannabe entrepreneurs to get a business degree? “I do not think a business degree is critical, but that said—if any of my children want to join the family business, I will insist they get an MBA. While most of the professionals in my industry (limo/bus companies) do not have degrees and are true entrepreneurs who started with one car as drivers, technology is making our industry more competitive. To stay ahead of competition, I would want my child to get an MBA.
Bouweiri’s best tip for entrepreneurs: Make time each week for networking.
Here’s why: “The first 10 years that I was in business, I was virtually chained to my desk. I grew my company from $200,000 to $5 million in revenues. Unfortunately, I was a micromanager and had my hand in everything. I was a horrible trainer and reviewed everyone’s work. My inability to train and delegate made me a prisoner in my own office. I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Then 9/11 happened. The phones stopped ringing and the fleet was sitting idle. I was not busy for the first time in my career. To try to drum up business, I started attending events four to six times per week.
“Networking was a journey of discovery for me. Not only was I able to meet new clients, I was also able to find better vendors. For instance, I was able to cut my insurance rates in half and get a bank loan in 24 hours. At networking events, I learned about all of the latest trends, and it is why I started a blog and jumped into social media. I volunteered on membership and gala committees and soon I was offered seats on boards. It was through board-level networking that I was able to create a network of C-level friends and associates.
“In the last 10 years, I have developed a database of 50,000, to which I send a weekly email showcasing my company’s offerings. While networking I have never pushed my business on anyone or ever made followup calls to close a sale. My approach has been to “stay on their radar.” That approach has worked. Today Reston Limousine is grossing $18.5 million in revenues and I can truly say networking tripled the size of my business.”
Read more about Kristina Bouweiri’s rise to being the leader of one of the top 20 limo companies in the nation in our book / radio / TV project, Truly Amazing Women.
Financial Planner Bryan Beatty
Egan, Berger & Weiner, LLC
Financial Planner Bryan Beatty worked his way through college—taking advantage of work-study programs and near full-time employment. It took him nine years to get that diploma from the Smith School at the University of Maryland-College Park.
“But it was worth it,” says the partner at Egan, Berger & Weiner, LLC. “College taught me how to think and find answers to complicated problems using my wits, and that hard work pays off. In the real world, formulas can only get you so far.”
Does Beatty think wannabe entrepreneurs need to get a business degree? “No not at all. Business school will help with understanding investments, financing, and marketing—but it takes so much more than that to run a business. No class or professor can teach you about how to manage people, or how to hire and train employees like running your business day to day. Hands-on experience—and by that I mean failure early on—teaches you what doesn’t work. You don’t need school for that. You need to get out there and do the work.”
Beatty shares that his mission-critical piece of advice for entrepreneurs about growing their business wisely: “Take calculated risks, and don’t be afraid of failing. Hire good people and learn to delegate.”
For more of Beatty’s advice on planning for Retirement, check out his column in the August 2013 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
After trying on a few majors as an undergrad, Andy Hines took a course on “History of the Future,” because it seemed interesting.
“It sure was,” says the futurist, who went on to get a master’s degree in Futures Studies (now “Foresight”) at the University of Houston. “It was one of a handful of such programs at the time. I really had no idea what I was going to do with that degree; I just knew I had to do it.”
The beauty of the Foresight program, Hines explains, was that it gave him a panoramic view of the future landscape—and it helped him to see where the opportunity was in jobs of the future.
“I really wanted to do foresight work full-time, so I hooked on as an intern with a futures consulting firm and worked my way up,” Hines shares. “Then I did a couple of ‘insider’ corporate gigs, working for about a decade with Kellogg’s and then Dow.”
Then, he did some more consulting, until four years ago when he felt comfortable starting his own business. So does Hines think wannabe entrepreneurs need to get a business degree?
“Need is a strong word,” he says. “Certainly, an MBA has to be helpful when you own a business. But I think of it as a complement to ‘something else,’ with the ‘something else’ being the source of one’s entrepreneurial idea/drive/zeal.”
What is Hines’ mission-critical piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
“Know thyself!” the futurist insists. “I’m sure that I’m on the cautious end of the spectrum, in that I carefully built a set of credentials over time and then took the leap. If you’re that type, then it’s about being patient and sticking with the plan. If you’re more towards the ‘jump right in’ end of the spectrum, then it’s probably about doing the research before jumping. Neither is right or wrong, but it sure does help to know which suits you better.”
For more of Hines’ “Hinesights,” click here to read his columns in Be Inkandescent magazine.
Want to learn more about Hines’ take on what’s coming in the future of business? Click here to check out his speaking topics, and book him for an upcoming keynote and workshop.
Founder and Publisher
Where Women Create
With no formal education in business, Jo Packham has risen to the top of the craft community as a publisher of several successful magazines for artisans.
The creator and editor-in-chief of Where Women Create, Where Women Cook, and Where Women Create Business has been a leading innovator in the handmade publishing market for more than 30 years.
Her publishing company, Chapelle Ltd., has packaged more than 1,000 titles for most major publishers in the industry including: Time Warner, Oxmoor House, Meredith Corp. , Rodale Press, Random House, Chronicle, and others.
Nonetheless, Packham admits that her education—a double major in Art and Child Development from the University of Utah and California State University in Sacramento—did little to prepare her for a career as an entrepreneur.
“I would recommend anyone wanting to start a company graduate with a Business or Marketing degree, or alternatively, that you work for a minimum of two years in the field of your interest for an entrepreneur whose company is similar to the one you are considering,” Packham explains. “You need to be trained in every facet of the business you want to start.”
Specifically, she advises: “If you want to own a restaurant—wait tables, order ingredients, manage the staff, understand the income versus the costs (which include waste, spoilage, theft, etc.).” And, she insists, “the entrepreneur you work for should own a successful company of the size and composition of your projected business venture.”
What is the one mission-critical piece of advice Packham has for entrepreneurs about growing their business wisely? “Do your homework, then find a way to fill a need that is not currently being met. Do not assume that you know the details of an industry if you have not studied it, worked in it, and analyzed all aspects of it.”
Owner of Nine Ace Hardware Stores, DC
The owner of a string of hardware stores in downtown Washington, D.C., ACE Hardware owner Gina Schaefer and her husband Marc proudly stand at the helm of an $18 million company.
Armed with a graduate degree in Political Science, she worked for a few years at the Children’s Defense Fund before embarking on entrepreneurship. “We were young and dumb,” Schaefer says with a grin. But the real answer seems to be equal parts necessity, opportunity, humility—and true grit.
Whether you have a business degree, or not, Schaefer says the key to success is not letting your lack of experience stand in your way.
“When I am speaking with people about my business, most inevitably ask what kind of hardware experience I had prior to opening Logan Hardware. The answer is easy—almost none. I did not inherit the business or buy it from someone.”
More importantly, Schaefer shares, is that she had very little retail experience before she bought into ACE. “Honestly, I think that probably would have helped me more than knowing how to change a flapper or use a hammer drill.”
“If hindsight is 20/20, then not giving in to a fear of inexperience turned out to be even more valuable to me as I started my path to business ownership,” she insists.
How did Gina Schaefer turn her chain of ACE Hardware stores into a multimillion-dollar corporation? Read all about it in the March 2010 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
Conscious Global Leadership
“The best education I have had was training to become an Olympic skier,” says Tara Sheahan, founder of Conscious Global Leadership. “It has always been my passion, and it required discipline, focus, commitment, and resiliency—all of which gave me enormous strength in my physical and mental body.”
Such dedication directly translated to having the courage and confidence to create her own business, Sheahan explains, noting that her first job—at age 13—was washing dishes at a local restaurant in Breckenridge, CO. “The freedom that came with having my own money to buy whatever I wanted was tremendously empowering.”
Later, as a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, Sheahan says she worked hard to find the delicate balance between classwork and skiing on one of the best teams in the country. “The overwhelming feeling to succeed was enormous at times, though when I finally graduated I realized I had achieved something beyond getting a diploma. The best education was taking on a lot of responsibility and simply handling it. That only comes from being fearless, actualizing your dreams, and turning them into reality.”
While a business degree can be a useful training ground for many business owners, Sheahan believes the critical ingredient in becoming a successful entrepreneur is a deep practice of mindfulness training. “You root out any self-doubt, and master the art of being intuitive about what you need to do to be truly successful. Of course, success begins within oneself. The key is to eliminate the mental programming that says, ‘I’m not enough, I’m unworthy, I can’t.’ Positive affirmations and an inner knowing that you can do whatever you set your mind to is what gets us to where we dream of being as entrepreneurs.”
What is Sheahan’s advice for growing a business wisely?
“Develop your intuitive power,” she says. “Indigenous leaders use ‘heart intelligence’ to make decisions. By tapping into emotional guidance, you will make choices from a deep, authentic place. This provides an incredible ability to understand your clients, customers, partners, friends, and family.”
For assistance, Sheahan recommends listening to Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey’s meditation challenge programs, which are easy to download online and use daily. She notes, too, that mindfulness training is being practiced at some of the most cutting-edge companies in the world such as Google and eBay. Plus, the Wisdom 2.0 conference, hosted in Silicon Valley annually, has more than 1,000 attendees.
“This is reflective of our desire to access the intelligence of our mind, body, and spirit,” Sheahan shares. “Taking a mindful approach to business is how the next generation of entrepreneurs will become the leaders of the 21st century—from the inside out.”
Learn how to open your heart—in your business, and your life—in our feature story on Tara Sheahan and Conscious Global Leadership in the May 2013 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
Dr. Esther Sternberg
Author of “Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being,” and, “The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions”
Internationally recognized for her discoveries of the science of the mind-body interaction in illness and healing, Dr. Esther Sternberg is a major force in collaborative initiatives on mind-body-stress-wellness and environment inter-relationships.
Currently the professor of medicine and research director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona at Tucson, Dr. Sternberg received her MD degree and trained in Rheumatology at McGill University in Montreal and did post-doctoral training and was on the faculty at Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Arizona, she was chief of the Section on Neuroendocrine Immunology and Behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health, director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program, NIMH/NIH, and co-chair of the NIH Intramural Program on Research in Women’s Health.
While business isn’t her background, she has mastered the art of entrepreneurship by working at the interface between disciplines.
“What is common knowledge in one domain may be totally new in another. It is often—perhaps always—in that space between disciplines that the greatest innovations are made,” Sternberg says. “What may seem mundane to one field, when applied to another, can yield the greatest discoveries. Plus, by doing so, many of the technological bugs will already have been worked out and the application to the new area will need that much less tweaking.”
Dive deeper into the business of healing yourself in our cover story on Dr. Sternberg in the June 2012 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
Lisa Anne Thompson Taylor
Taylor Strategic Partnerships
Lisa Anne Thompson Taylor took a circuitous path to entrepreneurship, she says. “I pursued a traditional Liberal Arts education at universities in the US and England, followed by 15 years in the nonprofit sector, then launched Taylor Strategic Partnerships.”
She studied sociology in college, and it provided a philosophical backdrop for her industry—philanthropy—and the collective response to societal inequities. “It was useful in developing the concept of program design, metrics, and analytics,” she explains. “That being said, developing business plans and financial forecasting were nowhere to be found in the curriculum.”
Does she think wannabe entrepreneurs need to get a business degree? “I suggest it’s more important to acquire industry knowledge and experience first, making it easier to identify unmet needs and understand your competition,” Thompson Taylor says. “This is a great launching point for entrepreneurship.”
What’s her best advice for other entrepreneurs? “Have a partner, or align yourself with an Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
Don’t miss Lisa Anne Thompson Taylor’s advice on “How to Avoid ‘Checkbook Philanthropists’ By Seeking Donor-Investors” in the July 2013 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
International workshop facilitator, author, life coach
A creative social activist, and advocate for peace, Joe Weston’s book, Mastering Respectful Confrontation, is selling throughout the world.
Born and educated in New York, he lived in Amsterdam for 17 years before moving to Washington, DC, in 2012.
“I am committed to helping others embody their true power, and supporting them on their journey towards personal fulfillment and freedom,” says Weston, who brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings—including Tai Chi Chuan and a variety of ancient traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings.
Clients appreciate what he has to say, including NASA, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mitsubishi Motors, The Giving Institute, and various educational institutions. He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates.
“I’ve never seen myself as an entrepreneur,” admits Weston, who studied classical acting and literature in college. He worked at a successful theatre company in Amsterdam, and taught in several theatre schools around Europe before launching his own professional acting studio. “I did all this on sheer will, creativity—and a little business acumen.”
When Weston shifted his focus to self-development, transformational trainings, and conflict resolution, he realized a business degree would be useful. Rather than go back to school for an MBA, he used his background in martial arts, the performing arts, human behaviorial studies, and various Eastern philosophies.
“This shaped me into a respectful, creative, grounded leader and innovator,” he shares. “I guess if you would like to make your journey of entrepreneurship smoother, I would say ‘yes,’ getting a degree in business would be helpful. But I enjoyed the challenges of my path not having a solid background in business systems. I feel not having this background fosters a deeper level of creativity and innovation. Like everything in life, the path you chart is up to you.”
Are you ready to master the art of Respectful Confrontation? Read more about it in the January 2013 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
The Futures Lab
“I consider my whole life a matter of never-ending education and exploration,” says futurist Derek Woodgate, who has a MS degree from Zagreb University in Political Economics.
“I feel that the varied positions I have held in corporate and even in the 11 years I worked in the British Diplomatic Service to have been more important to my development as an entrepreneur,” he shares.
A fully fledged entrepreneur for 17 years, Woodgate has grown his practice from a single home office in Belgium to offices and sister companies on all continents.
“Entrepreneurship can arise by design or accident,” he believes. “Both can work equally well. Whilst I have always considered the ability to define and offer a unique, competitive area of expertise more important than a college business education, I am sure basic knowledge of business is critical.”
What is required to master the art of entrepreneurship? Woodgate insists that it’s recognizing one’s strengths and acknowledging one’s weaknesses. “In order to optimize performance and contribution, not being ashamed or shy to collaborate, network, and ask for help has given me the confidence to grow the company and grow personally.”
Confidence along with dedication, endurance, good judgment, timing, vision, etc., are all important, he explains. “But for me, the ability to enjoy oneself even when the going gets tough is an essential ingredient for the successful entrepreneur.”
What exactly does a futurist do? Derek Woodgate explains in the December 2012 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
Want to learn more about the future? Consider hiring Derek Woodgate as a speaker for your next conference. Check out his page on InkandescentSpeakers.com for details.
Author, activist, entrepreneur
“I have a BA in English and most of what I know I learned on the job,” says Lee Woodruff, who started her career as a PR specialist and broadcaster before becoming an author and entrepreneur.
“I spent many years doing whatever it took to get the job done and go a little above and beyond as well—and I watched and determined what I did and didn’t want to do when it came to running my own business.”
Being a keen observer as you are honing your skills and coming up the ladder is really important, she insists. “For example, I knew I didn’t want a staff of people to be responsible for, didnt want to have to think about health insurance issues and filing business taxes. I wanted to remain a sole proprietor and work with other freelance people on an as-needed basis.”
What advice does she offer others?
“I would never offer advice on a path for others without knowing their particulars,” she says. “I think the beauty of the Internet today is that it has created so many more options for all of us. My ability to flex my time raising kids with my home-consulting marketing and writing business was invaluable to me. It was precisely what I wanted to do and it allowed my husband to be able to travel for long periods of time with his job and have one of us physically at home.
“This was what worked for me, but each person has to decide what is best for them. I do know that getting skills early on in life and then keeping them sharp throughout is a recipe for remaining relevant in a quickly evolving workplace.”
Learn more about the strength, resilience, and determination of Lee Woodruff in our March 2011 Women in Power issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.