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I first heard the equation P = MBA two years ago when my good friend Eric Boggs wrote about it. Eric’s post retells the story of a professor who says that formula is the single most important one they will learn in the two years of business school.

After just having graduated with my MBA, I agree with this professor (and Eric).

On September 26, 2009, I was honored to be nominated by my classmates to give the commencement speech at Kenan-Flagler Business School (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The title of my ~8 minute talk was “P = MBA.” However, I believe that the “P” does not stand for “Pass” … instead it is short for People.

The Speech

Read the transcript below and/or watch the video to learn why I believe the “P” should stand for People. (Thanks to David Prince for filming).

The professional world is full of acronyms: NGOs, PPOs, HMOs, LLCs

Media companies also like to keep it short: ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC, TLC, CNN, HGTV, ESPN

The so-called Gen Y or millennials have a language of their own: LOL, BRB, TTYL, J/K, BFF

And then there’s the equations:
e = mc2
y = mx + b
a2 + b2 = c2

And many more that some of us just memorized for the test…and then promptly forgot. You know who you are.

But the one equation I’d like to talk about in the next 4 minutes and 13 seconds is the following:

P = MBA.

If you haven’t heard this equation before, it’s a simple one. The P stands for “Pass” and the MBA stands for Masters of Beer Administration (at Brixx). Of course, I’m kidding. I just wanted to see if anyone was paying attention. I really meant Masters of BUSINESS Administration.

OK. Back to the equation. P = MBA. Again, the “P” stands for “Pass.” In other words, all you need to do to earn your MBA is to pass. I – for one – certainly “earned” my fair share of P’s over the past 2 years. I was under the impression that this acronym only applied to the MBA program, but my wife informed me that it’s the same for medical school and other professional schools – just replace the MBA with a MD, PhD, etc. Kinda scary, huh?

However, my intention is not to paint a bleak picture or to focus on mediocrity. I DO have good news for the current and future employers of this 2009 graduating MBA class. We are a motivated, competitive bunch who have worked our tails off over our careers and especially the past 2 years.  After all, we chose to be here. We chose to dedicate 20+ hours per week to think, talk, and breath business. We chose to invest tens of thousands of dollars. We chose to have “dinner” with 67 of our colleagues, a professor, and a few random undergrads 2 nights per week.

Again, I digress. Back to the equation.

P = MBA.

This won’t come as a surprise to those that know me, but I’m going to mix things up. I don’t think the “P” stands for Pass. So officially, right now, Saturday, September 26th, I’m changing the equation. The “P” now stands for People.

People = MBA.
Again: People = MBA

So now I have less then 3 minutes to convince you that changing the equation was a smart move.

I recently asked my fellow MBAs (as well as a few professors) to complete the following 3 sentences:

1. Now that I have my MBA, I plan on…
2. My favorite MBA-related moment was…
3. If I had to do it all over again…

The theme was not about passing class. It was about PEOPLE. Here are a few of my favorite replies:

*Now that I have my MBA, I plan on…keeping in touch with the faculty who remain at McColl. (Tim Flood)
*Now that I have my MBA, I plan on… sharing my story with young ladies to encourage them to overcome their fears and pursue their dreams. (Mary Macdonald)
*Now that I have my MBA, I plan on focusing on networking and more networking (Drew O’Quinn)

*My favorite MBA-related moment was Derrick’s delivery of his speech in the new leader speech class (Keri Bennington)
*My favorite MBA-related moment was…the minute I realized that the MBA wasn’t about the piece of paper, but about developing relationships with people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences with the same interests, dreams and drive as me. (Mary Macdonald)
*My favorite MBA-related moment was…the “networking” events at Brixx. (Joel Esken)

*If I had to do it all over again…I would strive to make personal connections with more classmates earlier. (David Prince)
*If I had to do it all over again…I would have gotten to know more of my classmates on a personal level. Evening classes were tough for an old married guy with kids.  All I wanted to do at the end of the night was go home. (Steve Petteway)
*If I had to do it all over again…I would! (Mary Macdonald)

The last 2 years would not have been nearly as rich and fulfilling of an experience without the PEOPLE associated with Kenan-Flagler Business School. This includes:

The Staff.
The Faculty.
The Students.
The Parters (Significant Others).
The Family Members.
The Alumni.
The Guest Speakers.

The natural question is: Which of these groups of people is the more important? The answer is YES! All of them. (Right, Hugh?)

So, now that we all have our MBAs, now that we have more free time to spend with family, now that we don’t have to worry about Joey B waking us up at 2 in the morning or Alan Neebe talking about the Null Hypothesis, remember the following:

The P. The People will still be here.

My challenge to you is to continue to use that powerful network of people you’ve grown over the past few years. Continue to connect and build relationships with the people you’ve met. It’s all about people. So thank YOU – the people.

Now it’s time to celebrate that Masters of Beer Administration.

Do You Agree?

So what do you think? Do you agree that an MBA is all about the people? Should we eliminate grades altogether or should there be more focus on grades? Talk to me!

DJ Waldow