Applying Tools from the MBA toolbox

“An MBA degree helps set you up for the future” – agreed, but what about the present?

I’ve been fortunate to have an opportunity to apply a great deal of our first year’s curriculum to my current role. Here are a few examples:

The impact of culture

This was an actual meeting schedule of mine from a month ago:

7:00 AM discussion with a product development team, represented by Sweden, the UK and Israel.

10:00 AM call with a sales team representing Canada and the northeastern part of the US (yes, people from New Hampshire are a different nationality).

1:00 PM meeting with folks from the west coast.

3:00 PM call with our Japanese sales team.

4:00 PM call with two members of our Australian sales team.

Every meeting had the same objective: collaborate to move a specific agenda item forward. What I did not appreciate until now is the impact each person’s cultural upbringing has on the tone and manner in which progress is best made. 

For example, the Swedish and Israeli teams prefer group consensus instead of relying on one person that ‘owns’ the decision (who might contradict the group). “I know best” is a behavior more indicative of the UK, Australia and the US. Additionally, I learned that the best way to get buy-in from the Japanese is to first approach the decision-maker’s subordinates, first getting their approval before moving ‘up the chain’. 

Based on these high-level understandings, I’ve noticed considerably less friction (and less time required) to move my specific agenda items forward.


I have a decidedly autocratic managing style – while I certainly solicit opinions from my team members, ultimately it’s been “my way or the highway”, and I believe I’ve lost a few solid contributors owing to that approach not appealing to them. As such, I have adjusted my management style to first better understand the motivations of each individual employee, then adopting more of a coaching style of management to help them achieve more in the long-term.

Visionary vs. Pacesetting

In a similar vein, I am now cognizant of the fine line that exists between being a ‘resonant’ leader versus one that would be considered ‘pacesetting’. Visionaries provide a new or clear direction, and lead by example. However, owing to the pressures of my unique situation at FLIR, I have been driving too hard in some cases (i.e. too much of a pacesetter) and burning people out – most notably myself. I recognize now that taking time to renew is a requirement of ‘working hard’, even if that seems counter-intuitive. 


I recently changed the platform on which we run ecommerce to a new provider, and took the opportunity to apply our learnings in negotiation. Aggregating losses, disaggregating gains, knowing ahead of time what my reserve was (and guessing at theirs) – these were all things that put me in a position of strength at the outset of our discussions.

Experience change

One of the largest challenges I’ve faced working for an organization the size of FLIR is the number of stakeholders from which I need buy-in to move forward with a project…and the fact that as many of them have their own agendas, they are likely to dismiss mine, especially if we’re competing for limited resources.

So it came with great satisfaction when my latest project was approved owing to “a well thought out presentation from conception to iterative improvement”, which was framed using the 7-step experience change model. 

Net present value

Specific to this project, one aspect that set it apart was my consideration for the time value of money. While I always put forth an ROI analysis for any new endeavor, I had never previously considered two important factors (especially to our CFO):

  • The present value of future returns (since money loses value over time owing to inflation).
  • The discount rate (rate of return) of one project relative to other potentials. There is only so much working capital to go around!

Accounting (in general)

I can finally have an intelligent conversation with FLIR’s controllers <*breaths sign of relief*>. Timing of revenue recognition. Accruals. What’s included in COGS. Now when I’m given a specific contribution goal, I understand the elements that make this up, and which are in my control to improve.

Customer Lifetime Value and Net Marketing Contribution

Everything with respect to our marketing campaigns has been “one and done”, i.e. have not considered future cash flows from customers who purchase through our advertising. As a result, we were discontinuing ad campaigns that were slightly below the required breakeven point, by not taking into account the fact that future purchase, i.e. “lifetime value” would push them to net a positive return.

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made

It’s been almost 20 years since the last time I was in a classroom!

I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently how school’s going. It’s been nearly a year since I returned to the classroom to pursue an MBA with Willamette University, after graduating from college nearly 20 years ago.

It’s been a very challenging year balancing my ongoing career, time with my family, a painful back surgery and the work of a professional MBA program. However, I have to say it’s been one of the best decisions of my life because I’m learning material that is applicable in the office the very next day.

For example, I had a recent conversation with a Strategic Finance colleague and could speak to the build of a Net Present Value calculation and why we may or may not want to increase the discount rate of the future cash flows given the rather gloomy economic forecast of the next couple of years. A year ago, I didn’t know what NPV meant, let alone what a discount rate had to do with it.

In my short year with Willamette University we’ve covered a lot of ground, from resonant leadership styles and the development of emotional intelligence, to linear regressions and normal distributions, to assembling financial statements and managing COGS. I could go on and we’re only a year into the two-year program.

Never too old to go back to school

The night before I started at Willamette, I wrote:

Growing up, I never liked school. It was theoretical and I wanted to get out there and “do” something real. I wanted to get out there and conquer the world. Now into my second career, hopefully a bit wiser, and certainly a lot older, I look forward to the classroom. I see the potential application of new knowledge.”

The application of new knowledge back in the office is unquestionable. However, to date, I think the most valuable element of my Willamette experience is the people. I’ve built relationships with a small cohort of colleagues that remind me of the value of diverse perspectives. We vary in age, background, experience and qualifications. Yet, together, we generate some remarkable thinking that has certainly challenged me to examine my own perspectives on a variety of issues. They’ve made me a stronger thinker.

It’s a lot of work. It’s expensive. It’s not easy. It’s tiring. I made all of these excuses for several years before I took the MBA plunge. They’ve all proven to be 100% true. And yet, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

To read about additional experiences from some of my colleagues scroll down!

Scott Burton

Director, Revenue Management & Portfolio Positioning  Cambia Health Solutions