Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm
One Fond du Lac County native braved a 50-mile commute to Milwaukee to secure his MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management. But the commute paled in comparison to his journey from employee of a large industrial interest to work as an independent investment broker.
John Crifton was working in Milwaukee as director of Quality Management for the Falk Corp., a manufacturer of industrial power transmission equipment. But in January of 2000, Crifton’s position was the victim of cutbacks, and he started devoting himself full-time to his studies.
A sense of foreboding about the stability of his position had led Crifton to start studying for his MBA — with tuition reimbursement from Falk — a year before he was let go.
“I knew my career at Falk was going to end,” Crifton said. “There is no security. It was quite evident to me that I would have to pick up another career. I wanted to get into finance and securities, and I thought the MBA would prepare me for it — and it did open some doors.”
Crifton considered a few MBA programs — including Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Name recognition of the school was important at first,” Crifton said. “I guess Marquette would have been a good one for that. But when I compared the accessibility of the classes, Keller won out.”
Keller is a division of DeVry, Inc., one of the largest publicly-held educational interests in the world. The school offers master’s degree programs and graduate certificates from locations in 13 states. As a whole, DeVry serves more than 85,000 students in 28 countries with programs leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees and/or professional certifications.
Apart from a livable class schedule, Crifton was impressed that Keller’s instructors had hands-on experience that professors at other business departments might have lacked.
“Most of their professors had pretty much experience in the real world rather than just being purely academics,” Crifton said. “The fact that Keller had classes in Internet marketing and things of that nature gave me the impression they were a little more up to speed with the times.”
Specific faculty members that stick out in Crifton’s mind include his finance and economics professors.
Frank O’Meara, Crifton’s finance professor, “was very knowledgeable,” Crifton said. “He knew his subject inside and out. He didn’t need any props to get a point across. You had to pay attention to him.”
Crifton said he appreciated the long years of experience O’Meara had in the investment business as a chartered financial analyst.
Crifton described his economics professor — Jeff Brand — as “a really dynamic guy. He was excited — very knowledgeable. He wasn’t into a lot of the theoretical aspects but rather a practical understanding of the topics. He used real-life examples — like how gas prices fluctuated, and things of that nature.”
Brand is a buyer/planner in Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s parts and accessories department.
Like many working MBA students, Crifton found the workload and time commitment a burden.
“Forget I had a family,” Crifton said. “That was the main thing. It was a major undertaking as far as your spare time. I had a 50-mile commute one way to get to school.
Crifton was living in Mayville and attending classes in downtown Milwaukee.
“But it was worth it,” Crifton said. “I think if I had it to do over again I would do it the same way. I learned a lot from that program, but I still have a lot to learn — and I learned that, too. Every day I get up and ask myself — do I know how much I don’t know today.”
And humility is a valuable trait for an investment advisor — as is a thorough understanding of business and economic concepts.
“I was interested in the market and the securities industry,” Crifton said. “I had been trading with Edward Jones. After I had my MBA, I let it be known that I was looking for a position. I had a few different companies that were interested, and I chose Edward Jones out of three broker/dealers.”
Crifton recently completed his Edward Jones training and is securing office space in Fond du Lac.
“It is a good program,” Crifton said of Edward Jones’ training process. “I passed all my license exams the first time out. I think coming off the MBA program helped with the training for my new career. The study habits and the discipline and the computer skills — all that really helped.”
While an MBA is not a prerequisite for the type of position Crifton is starting in, it does deliver credibility — an essential element for those selling intangibles.
“Like any professional, the better you are prepared academically, coupled with experience of real-world things, I think it helps,” Crifton said. “That doesn’t mean people without an MBA aren’t qualified — but I think it helps open the door for me to get in.”
August 31, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee