Two guys chatting in a cubicle at work

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Everyone that knows Gary had noticed that his mood had changed. Always known to be chipper and talkative, Gary was seemingly distracted in recent weeks.

After watching Gary be aloof for so long, Chas had to intervene. Chas, like Gary, is senior buyer in Fictitious Company, Inc., a mid-sized engineering firm. Both Gary and Chas started out as buyers for Fictitious in the late ’90’s and both got promoted to senior buyers when the company went public five years ago. They both report to Jim, the procurement manager.

One day, Chas said to Gary, “Hey bud, what’s up with you lately? You haven’t seemed like yourself. Is everything alright?”

“I’m just mulling over some decisions I’m thinking of making,” Gary replied.

“Anything I could help you with?” Chas asked.

“Well, here’s the deal,” said Gary. “You know how Jim has been procurement manager since before we started?”


“And how he’ll always be procurement manager til they haul him out in a body bag?”

“Haha, yeah!”

“Well, I need advancement,” explained Gary. “I want to be a vice president of procurement some day and that isn’t going to happen here at Fictitious.”

“You’re probably right about that,” nodded Chas. “So you’re trying to decide on another job offer?”

“I wish,” sighed Gary. “I’ve been sending out resumes and I’ve even been on a decent number of interviews. But every procurement management job I’ve applied for requires either a purchasing certification or an MBA.”

“By MBA, you mean a masters in business administration degree, right?” asked Chas.

“Yeah,” answered Gary. “And I’m having trouble deciding which one to go for.”

“Why not get them both?” Chas asked. “They’re not mutually exclusive, you know.”

“Yeah, I know that,” Gary declared. “And if I didn’t have a wife and kids, I probably would go for both at the same time. But they both cost money and they both take time out of your week for studying. With my responsibilities, I can only do one at a time and I’m not sure which to do first.”

“Wanna know how I’d decide?” asked Chas.

“Sure,” said Gary. “I need something to break the tie.”

“Well, I’d look at my financial situation,” Chas replied, speaking slowly as if he was thinking up his answer on the spot. “If I could afford the most expensive option right now, I’d do it. Yeah, the economy is going well now, but it’s been so unstable over the last decade or so, you never know if you’ll have the money to do the most expensive thing at a later point in life.”

“Hmmm,” said Gary, aloud. “That’s…a….different way of looking at it.”

“But doesn’t it make sense?” Chas retorted, not giving Gary a chance to respond. “The problem with saving your pennies for a rainy day is that when that rainy day comes, something else has already come to take your pennies. If you can afford the more expensive option now, do it. Then, if you want to do the less expensive option later, you’ll need less time to save.”

Chas’ advice didn’t exactly resonate with Gary. Actually, Gary felt a little uncomfortable with Chas’ suggestion as it was quite a contrast to the way Gary usually made decisions.

Sensing Gary’s apprehension, Chas tried to comfort Gary: “Look, I know it’s a big decision. So, take your time and just think about it. I gotta run to a meeting.” With that, Chas patted Gary on the back and walked down the hallway.

“Stupid idea,” Gary thought to himself as he returned to working in his cubicle.

But later that night, Gary pulled out some paperwork from when Fictitious went public. All current employees got generous stock options at that time and, since then, Fictitious’ stock price had gone up, up, up with the rest of the market over the past couple of years.

Gary found that, by cashing in his stock options, he could cover half of the cost of the MBA. And with his savings – or at least the portion of the savings that he and his wife didn’t need to keep as an emergency fund – he could cover another ¼ of the MBA tuition. He thought that getting a loan to cover the last quarter of tuition would be more than reasonable. Maybe Chas did have a good idea after all.

Gary decided to go for his MBA. It wasn’t easy convincing his wife of his choice. His wife had a hard time getting past the idea that the cost of a purchasing certification was 30 times less expensive than an MBA. But she and Gary had always supported each other in their career decisions – she left her accounting job to be a greeting card illustrator to fulfill a lifelong dream – so she deferred to Gary’s judgment.

Gary enrolled in an executive MBA program at a local university, where he attended class on evenings and weekends. Within three years, Gary had his MBA.

One week after graduating, Gary had not one, not two, but three interviews for vice president of procurement positions at other companies. The job market, like the economy, was going as strong as it had in his memory, yet still Gary was pleasantly surprised at his success in securing interviews.

Though two of the companies for which he interviewed sent him rejection letters, Gary did get offered the position of Vice President of Procurement at the third company – Mean Business Construction. He accepted.

The day he accepted the job and turned in his resignation at Fictitious, Gary went to Chas’ cubicle and thanked him for the advice. “Man, that was some odd advice you gave me about getting my MBA a couple of years ago, but you know what? It led me to the right decision!”

Chas was glad he could help his friend. He had no plans to ever leave Fictitious, so he felt no competitive angst as many coworkers might. He was happy to see his friend succeed.

Gary was thrilled with how things were turning out. He didn’t exactly make the average salary of other procurement VP’s due to the fact that this was his first supervisory position, but he did get an office with a nice view and an assistant who catered to his every professional need. He had arrived!

Gary’s first few weeks at the new job were chaotic and perhaps a little surprising. He didn’t anticipate that the other senior executives would expect him to “rule with an iron fist.” Gary was a pretty low-key type of guy, so being tough with his employees was out of character for him. The company’s successful run of the past few years – as well as the economy – was beginning to be subjected to downward pressure, so the company’s leadership was feeling stressed. But Gary felt he was adapting.

However, things took a turn for the worst around the time that Gary was celebrating his three-month anniversary with the company. Waning sales combined with the fact that a major account canceled its construction plans the day before it was scheduled to sign a contract with Mean Business Construction put some severe financial pressure on Mean Business. It had no choice but to shed employees to stay near profitability.

Gary was called into the CEO’s office one day. The CEO explained that, because Gary was one of their most highly paid employees and he had the least seniority, that his job was being eliminated. Gary was devastated.

Yet, Gary remained confident. “I have an MBA and now VP-level experience,” he thought to himself. “I’ll be fine.”

But the more time went on, the less “fine” Gary felt.

The economy began to crumble before everyone’s eyes, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding over a quarter of its value in a month’s time. There weren’t many available procurement jobs to be found on job sites. And the interviews that Gary did get didn’t go so well.

Gary would interview for senior buyer jobs, similar to the one he held at Fictitious. Yet, the hiring managers would tell him that an MBA and experience as a vice president overqualified him for them. Though Gary explained that he did a similar job for over 15 years and he would be happy to do it again, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

Gary would also interview for procurement vice president jobs, similar to the one he held at Mean Business. Hiring managers at those organizations told him that three months of leadership experience paled in comparison to the years of experience the many other candidates were able to offer. Apparently, Gary wasn’t the only procurement VP displaced by the bad economy.

Gary tried to keep his chin up. But, after nearly a year searching for a procurement job – any procurement job – Gary was still unemployed.

One day, Gary was entering the office building for the region’s largest employer, on his way to interview for a procurement manager job. As Gary was walking in, who did he see walking out but his old buddy Chas from Fictitious.

After exchanging pleasantries, they realized that they were both interviewing for the same job.Five weeks earlier, Chas was laid off by Fictitious.

Chas remembered his conversation with Gary years ago when Gary was trying to decide whether to get a purchasing certification or an MBA.

“Dude, you were so smart to cash in your stock options when you did,” Chas told Gary. “You probably got a fortune. I didn’t cash mine in until they canned me. Of course, with the stock market tanking, I only got pennies on the dollar. You were able to get an MBA out of it. Oh well, at least I got enough to get a purchasing certification. Looks like I’m gonna need it.”

“Yeah,” Gary thought to himself. “Now that stinkin’ MBA is actually doing me more harm than good.”

Chas ended up getting the job for which both he and Gary were competing. However, the story does have a happy ending. One month later, Gary got a buyer position making almost as much money as he had when he was working at Fictitious during good economic times. The part that Gary was bitter about, though, was the strategy he had to use to get it: he actually excluded his MBA work from the “Education” section of the resume he submitted.

Whenever the topic of graduate education came up at family gatherings, Gary would always half-heartedly joke “For every job that an MBA qualifies you for, it disqualifies you for a million other jobs.”
To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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