The Rise of the Blue-Collar Executive

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People often have the misconception that business C-suite executives are high-powered managers in expensive suits. However, not all executives wear white collars.

Blue-collar professions such as construction, plumbing, and telecommunications require leaders and managers with executive skills as well.

The advantage blue-collar leaders who rose through the ranks offer their company is two-fold: They have a deep practical knowledge about the company’s product or service, and they have the respect of their coworkers as a result of working their way up the ladder.

Blue-collar workers with seven or more years of management, senior management, or executive business experience can benefit from obtaining an online Executive MBA (EMBA) degree from Washington State University’s Carson College of Business. Online studies offer busy professionals the option of maintaining their work schedules while developing the skills and knowledge essential to being a successful executive.

Two examples of how a graduate business education can help a blue-collar worker rise to an executive level are David Underdown and Kat Cole.

David Underdown: Towing the Line

David Underdown used to work fifty hours a week as a cable television lineman at his father’s company. The job entailed climbing poles, dragging heavy equipment around, and enduring the weather. Although he was exhausted after work, he didn’t let fatigue derail his dream. For he plans to buy Underdown Trenching, Inc., the company his father founded.

To be able to buy and operate the company, Underdown, now a construction supervisor, knew he had to develop the business skills that an MBA would provide.

“While my body was exhausted at the end of every day, I knew I was not using critical thinking skills very often,” Underdown wrote in his blog post, “Thoughts on transitioning from Blue Collar to MBA.”

“I wanted to learn how to read financial statements, properly manage people, negotiate contracts, and develop strategies to give me an advantage over the competition.”

Underdown has some advice for people coming from labor-intensive, blue-collar jobs to an MBA.

“Dive into the MBA program as much as you can,” he said. “This includes getting involved in student organizations, going to all of your classes, and developing relationships with your classmates and professors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“Getting an MBA has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I believe that my hard work will benefit me down the road as I prepare to run my own business.”

Kat Cole: A Sweet Success Story

Kat Cole started out far from the C-suite – her first job was in a mall store at fifteen. Shortly thereafter, she became a hostess in a chain restaurant and then a waitress.

Her plan was to save money, get a chemical engineering degree, go to law school and become a lawyer for DuPont. But, life intervened. The restaurant chain wanted to send her to open an eatery in Australia – an exciting prospect for a young woman who had never been on a plane. Soon after, more openings followed. By the time she was twenty-six, she was a vice president reporting directly to the CEO.

Then, a tasty opportunity presented itself: she was recruited to work for Cinnabon – while she was still studying for her executive MBA; she received her degree shortly after she began work as COO. Three months later, she was president of the company.

Cole led Cinnabon to the highest year-over-year sales increase in the company’s history. When Cinnabon acquired a new CEO, she became a group president at Focus Brands, Cinnabon’s parent company.

Her advice to other up-and-comers is to see challenges as opportunities to learn.

“I would go to class one day and I would learn about transactions,” Cole told Entrepreneur magazine,” and I would go to work on Monday and be in the middle of the transaction, and I would think, ‘Thank God I went to class.’”

In addition to education, executives like Kat Cole should possess other skills to help them reach their goals.

Common Traits Among Successful Executives

The ideal set of traits for an executive is “a combination of decisiveness, confidence, flexibility, and humility,” according to Bruce Nolop, former chief financial officer of both Pitney Bowes Inc. and E*Trade Financial Corp.

The best executives also know where they want to go. They are flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances, but at the same time have the self-confidence to stick to their plans.

“Most important, and a seeming paradox, great executives are humble,” Nolop said. “They recognize the need to listen to alternative points of view and to trust the judgments of others.”

Thus, successful executives always look for ways to improve themselves – they never become complacent. They are open to constructive criticism and see both their successes and their failures as valuable learning tools.

An online executive MBA degree can help business students, including those from blue-collar fields, gain the knowledge and skills they need to be part of the the global business landscape. With the programs focusing on high-level strategies, executive MBA students can learn to craft advanced business strategies that may help them succeed in such specializations as international business, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

Washington State University EMBA Degree

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business online Executive MBA degree provides a deep exploration of the advanced practices and principles that guide today’s most successful businesspeople. Designed to build aptitude for big-picture decision-making, the WSU Executive MBA program delivers courses from an executive’s point of view to help students become acclimated to a view from the top, in an online format that suits busy professionals. Seventy-five percent of the EMBA online student body has more than ten years of management experience, providing ample opportunities for students to expand their networks and build broad perspectives on leadership.


Thoughts on Transitioning from Blue Collar to MBA

Thoughts on Transitioning from Blue Collar to MBA

Kat Cole

Four Qualities of Successful Executives