Which is success: Academic degrees or wealth?

“I made my first million dollars at the age of 28 and I lost it at the age of 32. And I remember when I was doing my MBA and …doing my MBA was one of the most difficult parts of life.

“You will run to the class and a professor will look at me and give me Ds and Fs. Meanwhile, I had 40 million dollars sitting in my account. Can you imagine; Can you do that? That is very difficult but we call that discipline.

“It is not because of money, but you have to get somewhere. You know, I will always say that when you are young, work hard. You reach a setting stage of your life, you work smart.

You get to a certain stage, your money has worked for you. “So, when you are at a point and you are still working for money, then you have a problem; your money has to work for you.”

The words quoted above were uttered by Daniel McKorley, the executive chairman of the McDan Group of Companies. He spoke to a radio station in Accra about his experiences in his academic pursuit of a degree at a university in Accra.

Mr Daniel McKorley was born on June 17, 1971, in Accra. He holds a BA degree in Business Administration from the University of Ghana. He enrolled at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) and was awarded an Executive Master in Business Administration (EMBA).

He also has a diploma in leadership from Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA, and an honorary doctorate from the London Business School. In addition, he holds several post-graduate certificates in leadership, transport and logistics.

His life story is one about a person who combined a business career with academic pursuits. Why was he successful in business, becoming a millionaire at the age of 28, and yet continued to go after academic qualifications?

He was either pursuing knowledge to enhance his business career or he just wanted paper qualifications for the sake of it. It sounds like he did not pass his Master of Business Administration degree course and he blamed the professors for it.

Mr McKorley reckoned that with his success in practical business administration, the professors should have given him high marks. Academic education, the major part of it, consists of theory or principles of the discipline. In this case, it is business administration.

If he has had a dissonance in that area of his studies, he would not perform well. However, it surprises me why a highly successful businessman showed so much interest in academic laurels.

Business pursuit has given him so much money. He is a multi-millionaire. Academic qualifications gave him what? I know of highly successful business persons who had deliberately dropped out of university to pursue, private, business interests that have made them multi-billionaires today.

Some examples are Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Jobs. Bill Gates was born on October 28, 1955, in Washington, USA. He attended Lakeside School and passed out with excellence.

He was admitted to the Harvard College of Harvard University in 1973 to study math and computer science. However, he stayed at Harvard College for only two years. He dropped out to concentrate on his private experiments on the computer chip and its potential.

Bill Gates and his school-time friend, Paul Allen, founded a computer software company. This is what Bill Gates told his parents after dropping out of university: “If things had not worked out, I could always go back to school. I was officially on leave.”

Bill Gates and Allen became pioneers of the personal computer revolution and inventors of the first personal computer in the world. He has been honoured worldwide in several ways, including honorary doctorate degrees from eight universities.

Michael Dell was born on February 23, 1965 in Houston, Texas, USA. He enrolled at the University of Texas at the age of 19 in 1984. He left the university the same year to devote himself full time to his experiments on the computer and the computer business he started while at the university.

The company was known as PC Limited.  The company’s name later became Dell Computer Company. Steven Paul Jobs, popularly known as Steve Jobs, was born in Sans Francisco, USA, on February 24, 1955.

He was also a college dropout personal computer revolution pioneer. He enrolled at Reed College in 1972 but dropped out to concentrate on his experiments with the personal computer.

He and Steve Wozniak, a college friend, founded the Apple Computer Company in 1976 and both of them developed and produced the Apple, Mackintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad computers and mobile phones.

The three pioneers of the personal computer and mobile phone revolution were far-sighted, conscientious and ambitious individuals who did not seek education for its own sake. They sought knowledge that would enable them to help and change human society and the world.

They saw the potentialities of a silicon chip that was invented in the 1960s and doggedly experimented with it until they had the desk-top personal computer ready to replace the cumbersome and highly costly supercomputer of a size that could fill a whole room.

Computer science and computer engineering principles and practices were not developed in university classrooms by professors. Experiments and inventions by the pioneers form the basis of what is today’s modern computer science and engineering.

Rather than picking the basics from the professors, the academics later came to them to learn about their experiments and inventions and to impart that knowledge to their students.

Indeed, the bulk of inventions that the world has did not come from the classrooms of universities. Much of them came from factories, farms, garages and bedrooms of inventors.

What the academics do is to observe and study what the practitioners do, put them together into lecture notes and books and pass it on to their students. Original learning and knowledge come from nature and life; not the classroom.

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), “Books are for the scholar’s idle times. When he can read God (nature) directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings.” (Emerson in The American Scholar).

‘’Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’’  That was what William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), an Irish poet, said.  He added that college education was worthwhile only if it successfully produced students who would become great scholars, inventors and innovators.

I am amazed by the rush of Ghanaian executives for post-graduate degrees. What do well-established and highly successful business executives and professionals want to do with master’s and doctorate degrees?

They leave their offices and workshops and spend hours attending classes at universities to earn postgraduate qualifications.  I am aware that the GIMPA runs evening and week-end classes for students.  However, evenings and weekends are precious resting times for professionals.  Lack of sufficient rest can affect productivity.

I suggest that a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to find out the advantages or otherwise in the pursuit of post-graduate degrees by Ghanaian executives. It is worthwhile if it contributes significantly to corporate and public productivity and national Gross Domestic Product.

It is the universal truth that primary, secondary and higher education is to equip the individual with knowledge, know-how and skills for the professional fields. Education is, therefore, a means to an end. The end is good and well-paid employment.

The endless pursuit of academic qualifications by Ghanaian executives is, therefore, not appropriate. It is alright if it is necessary. For example, for a general physician to do post-graduate courses to become a surgeon, specialist or consultant.

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