Mark Cramer | Crain's Charlotte

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mark Cramer

Background:  

Founded in 2014 to meet the growing needs of Gaston County, the Gaston Greater Development Corporation (GGDC) is a nonprofit membership organization that fosters collaboration and drives action on strategic countywide initiatives. October is GO Outside Month, which encourages Gaston County residents and visitors to enjoy all the county offers.

The Mistake:

Not pursuing additional formal academic training.

I currently run the Greater Gaston Development Corporation, though I am attorney by education and training. I’ve had a somewhat unusual career at the nexus of government at various levels – federal, state and local – and I have run a number of nonprofits and been in senior management in government agencies.

If there is one thing I could do differently, it would have been to get an MBA in addition to the law degree. There are very many lawyers, today in particular, who study law and move into other vocations where a law degree is helpful, but not necessary in many circumstances. That’s been my career for the most part.

Getting a formal business education would have been extremely helpful to me in my career, in addition to the law degree, which has had a good degree of applicability. But had I been able to or decide to also get an MBA degree that would have been extremely helpful. 

I had a lot of on-the-job learning in various different business disciplines that one could have gotten with an MBA degree: personnel, management, marketing, sales, organizations. You have to know how those things work, whether they are for-profit or nonprofit.

There’s so much more available now than there was 40 years ago.

The lesson:

If there were something I would have done differently, it would have been to broaden my academic knowledge.

It was my family history, primarily, that led me to law. My father is a lawyer, as is my brother, although he’s also in business. It was to some degree a family business; I had interned at my father’s law firm in the summers.

I realized this when I started a real estate development business about eight years out of law school. I moved to Charlotte in 1985 and started a real estate development business with my father-in-law. I learned there are a lot of facets to running a business, particularly from the financial side, that you need to learn pretty quickly. Until you start, time, value and money can be abstract concepts. But when you start building spreadsheets, it becomes very clear. 

It’s important to take a very hard look at where your career has migrated versus where you thought you might have been when you got your original education, and give some really hard thought in terms of getting a more formalized education in a different career field that’s more closely aligned with what you’re doing.

It’s a difficult decision, because there’s obviously financial issues involved, and family issues and unplugging from a career. But the opportunities today to do part-time learning or distance studies allows you to continue whatever you’re doing while allowing you to get an advanced degree in what it is you’re actually doing.

There’s so much more available now than there was 40 years ago when you really had to fully unplug to get your MBA. Look very carefully at expanding your education. There are fundamental business skills I wish I had gotten through a formal MBA versus on-the-job training.

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