From The Battlefield To The Boardroom: An MBA Degree Just For Veterans

Jun 15, 2016

The University of Southern California is doing something unique -- offering a college degree called an MBV – a Masters of Business for Veterans.

When James Bogle left the Army for the business world, he noticed a major cultural difference from the rigid hierarchy of the military.

"We could be sitting around the table in a project group in the civilian world where there’s nobody in charge—everybody is of equal status," Bogle said. "And you now have to figure out how to get the job done when there’s nobody directing."

Another major difference?

"Among the most important factors of your success in the civilian world are whether or not the people you work with like you," he said. "And that's simply not a factor in the military."

These are the kinds of lessons Bogle teaches veterans enrolled in a graduate program he runs at the University of Southern California. Called the Master of Business for Veterans (MBV), the program is one of a host of veterans-geared programs that have cropped up since the new G.I. Bill went into effect in 2009, providing tuition for thousands of veterans and doubling the number of former military on college campuses across the country.

Because USC is a private school, the G.I. bill covers a portion of the $50,000 tuition. But scholarships allow most veterans to attend for free, while others pay a maximum of $8,500. 

About 140 veterans have received a Master of Business for Veterans since the degree launched in 2012. It uses most of the same coursework as a traditional MBA program, with a few exceptions—mainly, skipping most of the leadership training common to a curriculum geared towards civilians just a few years out of college. 

That appealed to Blake Pickell,who a few years ago was in the Air Force, launching satellites into space. The experience prepared him for a potential career in project management, but he didn't want to get pigeon-holed into that field.

"I wanted to do something a little more creative," Pickell said.

The MBV program gave him the finance and marketing background to move into the start-up world. Now, Pickell is a senior manager for Cargomatic — a tech firm he describes as "the Uber of trucking." It links shippers with local carriers through a smartphone app.

Barbara Jones, who was a Foreign Area Officer in the Army, just graduated and said she simply felt more comfortable transitioning out of the military into a new career while surrounded by fellow veterans.

"I lacked empathy," she said. "It's kinda hard to get excited about my friend and her dog getting hurt, you know, when you’ve seen much worse."

Her classmates, she said, got where she was coming from.

Jones is planning start her own consulting business that will help American companies access markets in East and West Africa.

About a fifth of graduates go on to start their own businesses. Others have found careers in investment banking, management consulting, and non-profit organizations.