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Want Business Success? Take These College Courses

I’ve been spending increased time over the last few years re-engaging with my alma mater Bentley University talking about Bentley’s unique differentiators and the future of higher education. These discussions have reminded me of some of the most foundational courses I took there that shaped my business career. For a school founded with accounting roots, it has evolved into a 360-degree undergraduate curriculum for all who aspire to be successful in business.

I majored in marketing with a minor in management — with a fair share of partying and football which taught me a lot too! But being a business school, it was the general business courses that proved most valuable to me as they focused on the softer skills I now leverage every single day. Sure, I learned a ton in Accounting, Economics, and Finance courses, which were the more technical and rigid courses of the experience. Yet, it was the functional and market areas of my interest like High-Tech Marketing, Market Research, Marketing Management (I met my wife Katie in this class), and the case study courses like GB 301 taught by industry professors, that really were center lane for my career ambition and future track. With that, it really was the courses about skill sets that anyone in business must master  that were the ones I’m most grateful for. THANK YOU, Bentley!

I sometimes wonder how non-business degree folks even get through the current day without this type of education or practice. Maybe it’s why so many professionals feel the need for the advanced degree MBA, which I never felt would add much value to me given my amazing undergraduate-focused experience. It also could be why so many careers get stuck in a rut or plateau. Sure, you can read a book or watch a YouTube video on these topics to try and improve and be the most prepared person in the room, but a full semester of study is immersive and unmatched learning.

Maybe there is another post to write someday on why I didn’t get an MBA (I don’t want to derail this post), but instead let me elaborate on some of the most valued undergraduate college courses from my recollection, their teachings, and why they are most relevant to me today.

  • Interpersonal Relations:

Is there a more important core skill in business than communication? The networking and relationships we build in our careers are the one thing that travels with us from job to job or company to company across a multi-decade career. Your ability to engage, relate, listen and learn, articulate your thoughts clearly, show empathy, and build trust is paramount. This course primarily forced the tough situations and conversations we all inevitably face in the business world and prepared us to think on the fly. I leverage what I learned here every single day.

  • Public Speaking:

I’m consistently asked to get in front of an audience. Sometimes it’s one person, sometimes it’s digital on a podcast interview, the biggest to date at around 10,000 attendees (yes, you read that right!). At Dyn and then Oracle, my teams alone were 500 people worldwide, so it has become a regular occurrence to be in front of a big room. This class taught us a great deal about storytelling, cadence, facial and hand gestures, body language, delivery, and eye contact. Presence and dynamism can’t be taught, but can be worked on and honed. This class forced the students out of their comfort zone, regardless of topic, and challenged us all to embrace the moment on stage.

  • Negotiation: 

With a career in strategy, sales, marketing, product, customer relations, and business/corporate development, I feel like all I do is negotiate and do deals. Coming to a “price” or agreement/contract is simply what the buyer and seller can agree to. There are always at least two parties at the negotiation table and learning how to read your adversary, understand signaling and tells, surpass hurdles, derive shared value, and drive outcomes were the biggest takeaways from this course. As the opportunities in my career get bigger and more complex, I turn to role-play in this class constantly with more on the line.

Any curriculum you would add to the list? The best educational value for me is when I can take coursework and turn it into real-life case studies via practical use. What courses did you take along the journey that helped get you where you are today? What courses do you wish you took? Always be learning and the future is bright! Please read our How to Become CEO of Your Own Career eBook to get more musings like this one!

*Repost from an older version on my personal Medium blog from February 2016

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