Matt Williams had built a solid career of nearly 18 years in pharmaceutical sales by making the most of his time with potential clients.
"I supported myself in undergrad through door-to-door sales jobs and found out that I liked the idea of sales and marketing, being paid what I was worth and having a degree of control," he said. "Trying to get someone's buy in on a doorstep with a limited window of opportunity isn't entirely different than attempting to deliver something meaningful to a healthcare provider who has lots of things on his or her plate."
That entrepreneurial approach also led Williams to graduate with a Master of Business Administration from the online program at Boise State University with a 4.0 GPA in December 2018. Although Williams has worked for Pfizer in Boise since 2001, he seized the opportunity to advance his education and move ahead with his career field.
"I am in an industry that is constantly undergoing consolidation with newer, more specialized roles continuing to evolve," Williams said. "The processes are always changing. My purpose was to keep doors — even if they haven't fully materialized yet — open to me. As new opportunities come up, I want to make sure that I am in a strong place to be in the running for them."
The flexibility of the online format allowed Williams to fit school into his life.
"I have a busy schedule with outside sales," he said. "It's best for me to be in front of customers during the times when they are most accessible. The need to study early or study late was a big priority for me. I wanted to be able to work on my classes before or after work."
Change of Plans
Williams, who is from Jerome, Idaho, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Brigham Young University in 1998. He initially planned to attend law school before he caught the sales bug.
"I ended up marrying a future lawyer instead," he said. "My wife [Kimberly] went back later in life for her law degree, as well. I guess we like to do things non-traditionally in my family."
After graduation, Williams landed a job as a healthcare representative at Pfizer and never looked back. He also worked as an institutional and specialty sales rep and district manager before moving into his current role of senior professional healthcare representative in 2011.
"I'd like to make myself as valuable as I can in the healthcare field here in Idaho," Williams said. "Having a broader base of education and more understanding of a variety of business areas will only help me."
A concern Williams had with doing an online program was his lack of experience with distance learning.
"My undergraduate predates online anything," he said. "I had done a number of web-based trainings with my job, so the format wasn't completely intimidating, but I worried a little bit about how I would absorb things on an iPad versus a textbook I could highlight or mark up. It really wasn't too bad. In a lot of ways, online may have made it easier."
Williams devoted as much time as possible to the online MBA program, determined to ace each course.
"My goal wasn't just to graduate," he said. "I wanted to feel like I was learning and succeeding in my coursework, so occasionally I would apply vacation days toward studying. I was happy to do it to get the MBA."
Even though Williams has over two decades of real-world experience, he found several parts of the online MBA curriculum relevant to his job. BUSMBA 510: People and Organizations was one of the courses he enjoyed most.
"I liked being able to go through complex personnel situations with no clear-cut answer and work through them with my classmates and my professor, Dr. Jim Wanek," he said. "One thing I appreciated involved a case where I disagreed with him on his assessment, but I was evaluated on my thought process and rationale, more so than having a precise answer or point of view he had."
Williams enjoyed BUSMBA 505: Marketing Strategy for its broad array of materials.
"It was highly relevant and had a variety of instructional methods from the textbook to current thought leaders," he said. "We even discussed television programs, like Shark Tank. It placed a real emphasis on understanding things from the customer's point of view and digging into what motivates them."
Finally, BUSMBA 555: Business Plan Development, taught by Dr. Jeffrey Sugheir, wrapped up the program with a bang for Williams.
"We did very in-depth analysis in that course," Williams said. "I understood the why behind what was going on in my industry before I got company memos because of the research I was doing with Dr. Sugheir. It was a great way to finish off the experience."
Williams also appreciated the responsiveness of the faculty, which made online learning an even better experience for him.
"When I reached out for help and wanted it, it was there," he said. "I tried to take advantage of the times the professors made themselves available. I felt like I had as much faculty involvement as I wanted or needed. The responsiveness was comparable to my undergrad."
You're a Bronco Now
Williams had plenty of encouragement from his friends and family along the way. He and Kimberly have three sons — Scott (20) and twins Jake and Zach (17). Scott is a freshman at BYU.
"I don't think they were terribly surprised I went back for an MBA," he said. "They know I like to stay busy. They were supportive throughout and understanding. I thought it also might give me an opportunity to practice what I've been preaching about doing well in college. The preaching is easier than the practice, but it worked out okay. They were looking forward to me being done a little bit because it frees me up more to maybe go on a road trip and watch a football game."
Williams, who has coached youth football and basketball and enjoys skiing and running, said he displays his degrees from BYU and Boise State in his office based on which school won the last football meeting.
"I'm not sure when the BYU one is going to move back to the first position," he said.
Now that Williams has completed the online MBA program, he believes it is manageable for busy professionals looking to advance their higher education while maintaining a career.
"I was concerned about whether I'd be able to focus on two things that are very important and very demanding at the same time — a career and school," he said. "In addition to both being doable, the experience was rewarding. The degree gives me a platform to do other things I wouldn't have if I hadn't pursued the program.
"There were demanding classes where I may have been asking myself how this specifically relates with what I do, but I got something out of them and interacted with other professionals who had something to teach me. There was value throughout the program. I'm 100 percent glad I did it."
Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.
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