For international MBA students, the dilemma of whether to attend a top MBA college in their home country or consider popular overseas MBA destinations is quite common.
In the year 2000, European MBA applicant Luca Zerbini chose an elite American MBA program over European business schools.
Now over a decade after graduating from the Wharton MBA program, Luca has had successful stints in 3 different industries (management consulting, entrepreneurship and corporate roles). His decision to attend a top 5 MBA in America has paid off several times over.
Luca looks back on his career and shares interesting insights. If you are trying to choose between European MBA programs and U.S. MBA universities, here are some perspectives.
MBA Crystal Ball: What were you doing before the MBA and how did b-school come into the picture?
Luca Zerbini: I had decided to pursue an MBA just before graduating from my Engineering School.
But I knew that to get into one of the very best MBA programs in the world and add value to any class discussion and to my future class mates I would need some relevant professional experience.
So I went first to Hewlett Packard (HP) and then to Bain to gain that experience
Why did you choose an American MBA over European MBA programs?
Luca: I balanced the cultural, academic and professional value that I was expecting from an MBA: the top MBA in the US would provide me with a full immersion in the American culture (which has unique traits favoring business and entrepreneurship), a much deeper and wider choice in the academic curriculum and a much wider network post-graduation.
If the choice had been between a second tier MBA in the US and a top one in Europe, I may have considered that, but the top Ivy League MBAs just provide an unmatched quality and quantity of resources and opportunities, which is hard to account for in the typical MBA rankings.
Did b-school life live up to your expectations? As an international student from Europe, what did you learn that made the experience worthwhile?
Luca: It was above and beyond my expectations. It is one of these experiences that are impossible to describe: one has to live them to know what they truly feel like.
If I told you how great my day was heli-skiing in Utah, it would be hard for you to understand the emotions, the time shared with friends, the feeling of achievement and accomplishment.
An MBA is very similar: many go thinking of the academic side and what they want to learn, but the network, the people you meet (students, professors, recruiters and business interactions), the unique experiences are what truly what sets an MBA apart.
Why did you choose management consulting as a post MBA career?
Luca: I went back to Bain (was hired at Bain before the MBA), as they sponsored me for the MBA after less than a year with them, and was one of only 3 people from my office.
So aside of financial commitment, I felt I still had a lot to learn at Bain and felt it was fair to give back to a company that had believed and invested in me.
What triggered the interest in entrepreneurship? How did you manage the transition?
Luca Zerbini: My family has always been one of entrepreneurs and I was always attracted by the opportunity to drive the full agenda of a company.
This was not really a startup as it had been around for over 50 years, but it was going through some rough time and I felt that I could help.
The confidence to run a company after having worked as a consultant probably came from that 360-degree preparation that my Wharton MBA provided.
Some people may be born with innate leadership, but leadership can be learnt as well. I wanted to test myself and see if I could drive top line and bottom line results, and that experience provided me just that, as well as the opportunity to save and grow a company that otherwise may have disappeared.
After successful stints in consulting and entrepreneurship, why did you move into corporate life?
Luca: In my entrepreneurial experience, I felt there were still many business aspects that I could learn and develop in a larger corporate environment, one where I could work side by side from some of the top business leaders which are unlikely to be attracted to very small companies.
My advice is always to choose based on culture and people. I was fortunate enough to have a number of offers from different companies, but took the time to choose the best fit for me and it paid off.
After over 10 years of graduating from Wharton, are there still lessons, resources and experiences that you draw upon in your day-to-day working life?
Luca: Some of my best friends are still people I met at Wharton; we can be far and work in different industries but still share the same drive and passion for life and business.
We support each other and know each of us is always there for the others. If I have a business question, or seek advice, that network is always the strongest one I can count on.
What’s your advice to international students interested in the top 10 MBA programs in USA?
Luca: It is a very competitive process, so you need to give your best, use your network and leverage all the relevant resources you can find, including local Alumni associations and program outreach.
Be humble and take any feedback very seriously.
Wharton MBA Q&A video with Luca Zerbini
If you’d like to hear about the average day in the life of a Wharton MBA grad. Luca shares it in this video from Wharton Global Forum Paris.