Would you advance faster with a top-quality MBA degree? What do senior executives advise?

Whetheryou are an undergrad contemplating a corporate future, a young execwith a few years of solid experience, or a mid-career manager reachingfor the elusive ”brass ring,” careerplanning is essential. Regardless of your current status, there aregaps between you and ultimate success. This distance from presentreality to your preferred future can seem overwhelming at times, butmust be analyzed before it can be crossed.

Determining which gaps are most relevant is a first step. Which of these issues doyou face today? Which will you encounter down the road? How would pursuing a first-class MBA degree help you?

The gap between you and your peers

No matter what your age, the visible achievements of others in your college graduating class are, and will remain, a yardstick to measure your progress. These peers are the former classmates who proudly announce their latest promotions in alumni newsletters, boast of their latest mega-deal, and seem always to be in the right place at the right time.

Think of this phenomenon as a lifelong class reunion. Looking around the room, literally or figuratively, how many of your peers have loftier titles on their nametags or smile more convincingly when describing their future prospects? Just a few? Or most? If the gap between you and the high flyers is substantial — and seems to be expanding — a top quality MBA degree may be one answer.

The CEO of a global payment systems company says, “I got my MBA because I wanted to become – and be viewed as – a broader business person who was more upwardly mobile. An MBA is helpful in getting a job, then being considered more promotable. More is, and should be, expected from someone with an MBA. It’s hard to see how you can go wrong with that degree.”

The president and CEO for a major operator/franchiser of restaurant chains shares his perspective on the topic. “As an undergrad, my long-term goal was a senior management position with a major organization. I believed that an MBA would help provide the background and firepower to leapfrog over my fellow competitors in the job market.” He advises, “Get your MBA as soon as possible, hit the ground running and never look back!”

The gap between you and your business associates

Whether based on your undergraduate major or job assignments, most managers are identified with a particular business discipline. The most common are operations, finance, marketing, information and human resources. On a daily basis, you deal with associates who represent most of these disciplines. For example, marketers work with information systems managers to get data for product development, operations execs work with financial analysts to plan capital investments, and so on. You face even more representatives of other disciplines and industries if you are in direct contact with customers or vendors.

To grow and succeed, you must communicate effectively and work productively with colleagues, clients and suppliers who have very different priorities and perspectives. If you cannot accomplish this, you may be destined to either remain a lower-level specialist or, more likely, get replaced by someone with that broader perspective. If you want to make the leap from specialist to generalist, spanning business disciplines and industries, a top-quality MBA education may be your key.

At business school, students learn the “language” of each functional specialty. Furthermore, many MBA programs emphasize team projects in which you are part of a cross-functional group working through real-world business issues; each student learns how to achieve objectives with and through teammates who bring a different expertise to the table. Then, once they return to their companies, MBA graduates are often placed in special “rotational” programs where they work in a variety of departments, gaining hands-on experience with each of the organization’s core functions.

A graduate business degree can prepare you for dramatic changes that may thrust you into different roles. For example, the chief operating officer of corporation owning newspapers, TV stations and other companies around the world says, “Chances are you won’t stay in the same career for life. You need flexibility so that, if one career gets shut out, you can go for another. An MBA degree is a great way to help make this possible.”

Contact The MBA Exchange for a free evaluation of your current potential as an MBA applicant.