Matthew Skinner always seemed to be one degree of separation from a promotion.
"I found myself in too many situations where I had more than enough experience and the reputation and credibility for promotion opportunities, but I would be overlooked for someone with less experience who was less competent because they had an MBA," he said. "That was ultimately what drove me -- I got sick of that happening. That combination of experience and competence, plus the MBA initials after my name, will hopefully allow me to not be overlooked anymore."
Skinner will graduate from Baylor's online Master of Business Administration program in December 2017. The flexibility of the asynchronous format was essential for Skinner, who spends about 15 days a month traveling for his job as market development manager/regional sales manager at the Houston branch of environmental engineering firm Profile Products.
"I can access things while traveling," he said. "Juggling time zone changes can get a little tricky, but I can still manage it. The fact I could still be involved with a quality university and not be committed to a certain number of weekends or weeknights that would cause me to have to limit my travel schedule was definitely an attractive feature of the program."
Even with all he has on his plate, Skinner has also been able to feed his entrepreneurial spirit. He plans to launch a new line of men's and women's grooming products in retail outlets in early 2018.
"It's a very underserved category for many retailers," he said. "Plus, it's made in Texas, which local retailers love, of course. That's been a positive thing. It's a need for them and a great way for me to get my product on the market."
Skinner's grassroots company is called 9's, as in "dressing to the nines."
"I'm still keeping my day job, but the MBA has given me the confidence to pursue some business ideas I have been sitting on for years," he said. "I'm producing out of my garage, so it's still a start-up. I've got my packaging source coming out of China. I've kicked everything out of the garage, and now it's got work benches all over and production equipment set up. I'm doing my own thing now. We'll see what that leads to."
Once Skinner earned his undergraduate degree from Utah State University with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a business minor, he wanted a career that would involve highly technical engineered product sales.
"It was probably dumb luck that I ended up working for an environmental company," he said. "I landed in environmental, and it clicked. I loved it and stuck with it. They made specialized plastics that fit that market."
Skinner especially loved the fact that his first engineered sales job was at an environmental lining company in Houston, where he worked for nearly seven years as a regional manager, helped him make a difference with the planet.
"Once I got in there, I realized, 'Hey, I can have a real impact on environmental improvement, but I can do it in a capitalistic way," he said. "I don't have to be a crazy tree-hugger, chaining myself to a backhoe. I could go about it in a different way that's going to be more realistic, more productive and more effective.' That's where I zeroed in on wanting to focus on environmental stuff."
In addition to the central United States, Skinner travels to foreign locales such as China, India and South America for large-scale remediation projects.
"I'll get called in to consult and try to figure out how we're going to fix it," he said. "I love going anywhere in Asia, China in particular. I love the culture and the people. It's in desperate need of assistance. The communist mindset they have always had there is very anti-environmental -- they don't care one bit. It's good I can get in there and help with a lot of cleanup. There have been a lot of positive improvements we've made over there. I enjoy that."
Skinner's top priority when he was choosing a university was a flexible, quality MBA program. However, there was another factor he had to consider.
"I ultimately went with Baylor because it's a top-notch school," he said. "I work in the engineering field, and if you walk in there with a Texas A&M ring on, that sure gets a lot of attention. If you walk in there with the wrong school, you'll get kicked out of the room real fast.
"If I wasn't going to go to Texas A&M, it couldn't be the University of Texas or another competitive [engineering] school. It does matter in this business; I had to think about it. Baylor was not going to cause me any political issues going forward."
Skinner also dealt with some naysayers among his colleagues.
"I've heard people think it's stupid and a waste of time," he said. "I've had several guys tell me, 'Well, I got my MBA and it didn't help me any.' In every one of those cases, when I investigate, I find out their MBA came from a less-than-stellar school. I look at that and think, 'Well, it probably has to do with what's on your diploma.'"
However, the most important people in his life -- his wife Penny and their six children, Madison, Gage, Raegan, Kendadee, Cannon and Quinn -- gave him their full support.
"I sat down with my family before I started and explained, 'For the next 18 months, you are not going to see me. I'm not going to be available. I'm going to miss dance recitals and basketball games. I'm going to miss these events. That's just the way it's going to be. Can you support me?'" Skinner said. "That's made a big difference, because I have talked to a lot of students who did not have a conversation like that and reached a point where their family got frustrated and upset about it and began to resent the program.
"I'm mindful of the example of continuing to learn, never stop striving to better yourself," he said. "By the same token, I am stressing to my kids, 'Don't do it this way. Go to school and stay there until you have at least a master's. Don't stop at a bachelor's. Go all the way to master's, if not further, and do it all in one sitting. Don't take a break. Just keep plowing through. If you get married, that's fine. Keep going to school.'"
The online MBA curriculum has not only provided Skinner with increased knowledge, it has also helped motivate him to expand his horizons at work.
"I have striven to find ways to apply it," Skinner said. "I've asked my executive team to give me specific challenges so I can use the things that I'm learning and then, ultimately, my hope is that it will stick in my mind better if I'm applying it immediately. My company has been really good to support that and let me take on new challenges and apply these things."
Skinner's two favorite courses in the online MBA curriculum were ECO 5415: Economics for Managers and QBA 5435: Business Statistics.
"A lot of Economics for Managers was Game Theory, behavioral economics," he said. "That has been a personal passion of mine for years. So, it was nice to get into a class that zeroed in on those things.
"I appreciated the statistics course for the knowledge base of truly interpreting financial reports. Now, when I look at an article in the Wall Street Journal that references a study, I can genuinely now go to that study, break it down and analyze it to see if the stats are legitimate or if they're being applied properly. Those are the two courses I use all of the time."
Maximum Containment Level
In order to benefit from the online MBA program, Skinner had to invest outside of it.
"Since it is online, you can easily let yourself become an island," he said. "You've got to put yourself out there, start your own study sessions, reach out to other students and find the students who live locally and meet them. I travel a lot around Texas, too. Everywhere I go, I arrange to meet up with other students. We grab lunch or dinner and chat, hang out or do study sessions. If nothing else, I just create connections in Dallas, San Antonio ... I know where everybody is."
Skinner believes the relationships he has built with his fellow online students will extend far beyond graduation.
"You've got to put in some effort and be available to people," he said. "That's what I've tried to do. I've tried to be a magnet for pulling people together and making things happen. I believe it has paid off. We have a solid core group of people who I know will be connections for many years to come."
Maybe he'll have some future 9's customers among those connections, too.
"I've been making the products for myself and my friends for about four or five years now," he said. "It's just been a small batch. I give them out as Christmas gifts and that kind of thing. It's a small-level thing, but the feedback has always been very positive.
"They keep saying, 'You need to do this as a business.' I always had hopes to do it but didn't have the know-how. Now, I am able to understand product costs, production processes and all of the things I have learned through the program to make sure I'm doing it properly and am less likely to mess up."
Learn more about the Baylor online MBA program.
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