Tom Turletes had always wanted to go back to school to earn his master’s degree.
He found the perfect occasion when his company, Westinghouse Airbrake Technologies (Wabtec), bought GE’s locomotive business.
“Part of our development within the corporation is always to have personal development goals,” Turletes said. “I thought to myself that in going back and getting my master’s, ‘I can have a long-term goal set with my company for personal development, improve myself, and increase my value to the company.'”
So Turletes set off on his journey, enrolling in the Longwood University Master of Business Administration – General Business track, which he completed in August 2018. He chose Longwood from a list of 10 schools he had considered.
“Accreditation was key. Between the structure of the program, the accreditation, and certainly the value, I thought Longwood was an excellent choice,” he said.
Reputation was also key to Turletes decision.
“I wanted a school that was recognized and reputable,” he said. “Longwood is well known within Virginia as a quality university — even outside of Virginia too.”
Turletes had not been in school since he received his bachelor’s degree in 1999, so he was a bit intimidated by the prospect of going back to earn his master’s online.
“The thing that surprised me is how much you can fit into time that you didn’t know you had,” said Turletes, who ended up enjoying his online MBA experience at Longwood.
Turletes benefited from the online format given the amount of the traveling he does for his job.
“I spent a lot of time studying on airplanes and in hotel rooms,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it in a classroom setting. I’m traveling 20 or 30 weeks a year.”
Going back to school allowed Turletes to learn more about changes in the business world in the last two decades.
“Marketing is changing so much from the old days, with the internet, social media and the way companies are structured these days,” he said. “It’s a brave new world out there. That said, there are fundamentals that remain. It’s an interesting mix of old and new.”
Doing hands-on capstone projects with his classmates was valuable for Turletes because he gained new perspectives on different business models.
“We had to invent our own company and engage a client,” he said. “We performed a marketing study for a nonprofit. It was a great experience, looking at how they generate funds and who they’re competing against. Even though it’s nonprofit, they’re still competing in the market for funds. The client truly appreciated our work too and incorporated it into their master plan.”
As an older student, Turletes was happy to pass on the knowledge accrued through his years of professional experience to his cohort.
“I was able to share my experiences with my classmates — that was mutually beneficial,” he said. “I was also opening my eyes to trends and management theories about the way businesses work.”
Overall, Turletes found his time in the Longwood MBA program essential to developing his role within his company.
“Understanding the way we approach business strategies has helped me out quite a bit,” he said. “Codifying and developing an understanding of the way that customers react to corporations and the way corporations react to customers has been helpful. It comes down to a strategy level. Who do we want to be? How do we get there?”
Turletes is now an advocate for the flexible learning schedule of an online MBA program despite his earlier reservations about virtual learning.
“If I was in a classroom setting, I don’t think I could have succeeded. But being able to work at my own pace made it better,” he said. “Although the program is pretty rigidly paced, with enough advance notice and resources, you can get it done.”
The freedom to study at one’s own pace can be a blessing and a curse sometimes. Turletes does warn prospective students that keeping up with coursework is essential.
“I won’t kid you – I got behind once or twice, and it was not fun,” he said. “We were warned by the upperclassmen that the worst thing for your academic success is getting behind. It gets to be very daunting to try to make up work, make up time.”
However, Turletes offers a few strategies that students can use to make up for lost time.
“You contact members of your cohort, and sometimes, they can help you out,” he said. “The faculty are very willing to help you or offer advice on what you can or can’t do. It comes down to being resourceful.”
What made the program easier to get through was the full support Turletes had from his wife, Sue.
“My wife completed her MBA 20 years ago, and she’s totally pro-education,” he said. “When I said that I want to go back to school for my master’s, she said she’d be behind me, and we’d find a way to manage.”
Time will tell just how far Turletes goes with his education, but for now, he is still amazed at how much he has gotten out of his MBA.
“You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn,” he said. “There are so many things you didn’t know that you didn’t know, and it stays with you for the rest of your life. This is a great investment.”