After studying history as an undergraduate at Mills College, Rachel Kau-Taylor wasn't sure what to do after graduation. Unhappy with the few jobs she tried, Kau-Taylor wanted to pursue a career in something she really enjoyed.
"I thought, 'Well, I like to eat, and I like to drink wine.' And then I thought, 'Well, how can I do that and get paid to do it?"
Kau-Taylor went to Napa Valley Cooking School, worked at a winery, and then landed at Sonoma State University, which offers an M.B.A. with a concentration in wine business—the only program of its kind in the United States.
Kau-Taylor's story isn't much different than those of other students in the program. Some are philosophy majors, others studied Spanish, and many pursued bachelor's degrees in business but didn't anticipate that they would be taking wine classes while earning their M.B.A.s.
Many of the students in the program describe some sort of small revelation that lead to this path. For Abigail Smyth, it happened when she visited a California winery and noticed that the employees were smiling as they worked. And for Stephanie Peachy, a wine lover who has worked in marketing for years, the revelation came when she realized that this M.B.A. program was the "perfect combination of business and passion."
"I knew I'd be in business, but I didn't know what kind," Peachy says. "I didn't expect to get into this field, and that's what makes it exciting."
The Wine Business M.B.A. at Sonoma State was approved and introduced in 2008 as a response to wine industry's need for more educated leaders. The program consists of 10 evening classes, seven of which are general M.B.A. courses and three that are specific to the wine industry, such as Marketing and Sales Strategies for Wine. As with many general M.B.A. students, all of the wine students have had experience in either the wine industry or in the business world. For several graduates, that experience plus the specialized M.B.A. has helped to advance their careers, be it through new jobs or a promotions within their current companies.
Sonoma State isn't the only school that offers an M.B.A. program with such a specific, localized specialization. At LIM College, a small fashion school in New York City, graduate students can pursue an M.B.A. with a concentration in fashion merchandising and entrepreneurship. Milan Milasinovic, the vice president of graduate studies at LIM College, says that the program was started because of the fashion industry's need for it.
"The industry is traditionally based on creativity, and business was always secondary. That perception has obviously changed in the last 10 or 15 years," Milasinovic says.
There are now a growing number of private-public corporations in fashion, according to Milasinovic, which has prompted a subsequent need for professionals with M.B.A.s. The program, which consists of 51 credits and admits about 20 to 25 students a year, seeks to fulfill that need for more educated fashion leaders. So far, Milasinovic said, about 90 percent of his graduates found employment in the industry within three months of graduation, with jobs such as marketing specialist at Ann Taylor and HR generalist at Gucci.
Similar to the graduates of this LIM College program and those of the Wine Business M.B.A., students who receive an M.B.A. with an emphasis in gaming management from the University of Nevada—Reno also seem to quickly advance their careers.
[See our Best Business Schools rankings.]
William Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada—Reno, credits the success of gaming management M.B.A. students to the industry's need for more educated managers. He says that need is what prompted the university to develop the gaming emphasis in 1997.
"A generation or two ago, you seldom found university graduates in management, let alone people with M.B.A.s," Eadington says.
But since about the 1980s, Eadington says, the industry has evolved into one more corporate and very driven by information technology. In gaming today, he notes, there's more weight on loyalty programs and database management, and an M.B.A. education helps in understanding those factors.