From his three deployments to Iraq, where he earned two Bronze Stars for his actions, to owning and operating a Lansing, Michigan, coffee shop, Mark Thompson is the type of person who never settles. His next challenge is always around the corner; full of new things for him to learn and be excited about.
These days, Thompson's energy is devoted to raising a family, operating three BIGGBY Coffee Shop franchises with his wife, Paula, and working as a managing partner for Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan.
So why did the U.S. Army veteran decide to earn his Master of Science in Management, Strategy and Leadership (MSL) online from Michigan State University?
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The answer is simple: leadership. After completing an MBA program while serving his country overseas, Thompson was comfortable with online learning and was looking for a high-level program from a reputable institution that would provide the tools necessary for success in the business world.
"I share with people that the MBA degree is like the bones of a skeleton, but this MSL is the meat on the skeleton," said Thompson, who earned his undergraduate degree from West Point. "I found the MBA to be very technical and more of an analytical look at the business world, where this degree is more of the soft skills that in many ways are more important in management and leadership.
"This program teaches how to effectively work with people and people will always be what make companies successful, more than a profit/loss report," he said.
Thompson was part of the first graduating class for the online MSL program at Michigan State's renowned Eli Broad College of Business.
"If I had to choose only one degree to have earned, I would choose this degree every time over my MBA," he said.
"Almost daily I get to apply leadership and management principles that we have learned in our work. We have spent a lot of time on what motivates employees, and how job design and other tools can enhance or take away from a worker's success.
"My company is going through a major strategic change and we have spent weeks studying how to effectively manage change from not only the systems perspective, but the human perspective as well."
That human perspective is what pushes Thompson to continue his professional growth. In his role as a leader, Thompson understands the need to never stop learning and never accept the status quo when it comes to the standard he sets for those he leads.
He can point to his own educational journey as proof: After graduating high school with a middle-of-the-road GPA, the Southern California native enrolled in junior college only to quit while still in his teens to enlist in the military.
Three college degrees later, Thompson said he has "learned that academic success is not about intellect; it's about study habits and the discipline to do the work.
"I want to make sure that I never create a ceiling for those who I am developing because I didn't know enough to be able to help them achieve the level they were capable of reaching," he said. "So I am driven by learning that one extra piece of information that will help me help those that I get to work with every day."
Looking back on his coursework, Thompson sees, now more than ever, the importance of relationships and making sure they don't fail at any level within his own organizations.
"All of these courses reaffirm that people make organizations run," Thompson said. "Those who have the ability to build relationships for the right reasons will win the day for how they are motivated, how others around them feel about work and how the companies perform.
"When you learn and understand how to lead people, the sky is the limit."
For more information about Michigan State University's online master's degree or certificate programs, click here.