What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Business Operations Manager?

What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Business Operations Manager?

If you’re a natural-born leader and problem-solver with good business sense, being a business operations manager could be perfect for you. As a business operations manager, you will lead teams of business professionals. You’ll juggle the many management and administrative responsibilities involved in day-to-day work. You’ll meet the long-term goals of an organization.

Operations managers oversee:

  • budgets
  • scheduling
  • human resources
  • company policies
  • daily operations
  • work assignments

To ensure that projects get done accurately and in a timely manner, they use their skills in:

  • time-management
  • communication
  • decision-making

With a median salary that nears the six-figure mark, successful business operations managers command a high pay rate.

The first step in beoming a business operations manager is a college degree. Many business operations managers have a bachelor’s degree. However,   more organizations and positions prefer a master’s in business administration. Business operations managers are also referred to as Chief Operations Officer (COO) or Operations Director.

One of America’s Best Jobs

According to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Business Jobs Rankings, business operations managers rank #11 in best business jobs and #21 in best paying jobs. The publication uses seven metrics to rank jobs, including:

  • median salary
  • unemployment rate
  • 10-year growth volume
  • 10-year growth percentage
  • future job prospects
  • stress level
  • work/life balance

Business operations managers ranked well above average in many categories, including:

  • salary
  • upward mobility
  • stress level

It was below average in flexibility

In an interview with U.S. News & World Report, business operations managers stated the importance of collaboration and working with teams from across all units of an organization. In addition, good public speaking and meeting skills were critical to success. Anticipating the future needs of employees was also listed as important.

A Bachelor’s in Business and Beyond

To develop the high-level skills you need to succeed as a business operations manager, you should pursue an undergraduate degree in some field relevant to business. For example, business administration – one of the top 10 highest-paying degrees in business – is a popular major among aspiring operations managers. Public administration, liberal arts, or even law programs can also prepare candidates for careers in operations management, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Business and closely related disciplines are the most versatile, but they’re not the only option for aspiring managers. In certain industries, a degree in a field relevant to the specific industry may actually be more valuable than a business administration (BBA) degree. Also, some operations managers go beyond the bachelor’s degree and earn a master’s degree in business administration (MBA).

Degree Path for Becoming a Business Operations Manager

Degree Paths to Becoming a Business Operations Manager

Master’s in Business Administration
A Master’s in Business Administration is a generalist graduate degree. It focuses on building advanced skills and knowledge in key business areas such as:

  • accounting
  • economics
  • finance
  • management
  • marketing

Most programs also focus on leadership, as the majority of students are current or aspiring leaders. MBA programs tend to stress applied learning in combination with theory. Students work on real-life business scenarios via case study analysis.

MBA degrees can be completed either full- or part-time. This makes the degree an excellent option for the working professional. Many MBA degrees are generalist in nature. However, more programs are beginning to offer specialties and concentrations in industries such as:

  • entrepreneurship
  • healthcare
  • information technology
  • logistics
  • operations, and more

Keep in mind that many companies invest in their top performers and will pay all or a portion of an MBA.

Bachelor’s in Business
A Bachelor’s degree in Business is a generalist degree where students take a variety of general education courses in combination with specific business classes such as:

  • accounting
  • economics
  • finance
  • logistics
  • management

In addition, students take several mathematics courses involving:

  • calculus
  • finite math
  • statistics, and more.

Bachelor’s in Economics
A Bachelor’s in Economics offers students specialized classes in several different areas of economics such as:

  • macro/microeconomics
  • monetary policy
  • labor economics
  • applied economics

In addition, students take math courses in:

  • differential equations
  • linear algebra
  • multivariable calculus
  • statistic

. This gives graduates a strong background in monetary policy, economics analysis, and other skills critical to success as a business operations manager.

Bachelor’s in Finance
Similar to a Bachelor’s in Business, a Bachelor’s in Finance requires several fundamental business classes. In addition, students take several finance-related courses such as:

  • corporate finance
  • fundamentals of investments
  • personal finance
  • taxation

Bachelor’s in Management
A Bachelor’s in Management provides a foundational business education along with specialized courses in:

  • management
  • project management
  • human resources

The job prepares graduates for entry-level positions in this career with the possibility of becoming a future manager or administrator. This is a common degree held by many business operations managers.

Job Qualification

Job qualifications vary by industry, but it is very common for candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree in business or a related industry. Other qualifications include the ability to manage large teams and engage in advanced financial and logistical analysis on a company-wide scale. Also important is  the ability to analyze complex budgets. Management experience of at least three to five years is common.

Job Experience Required

You don’t just walk into a business operations manager position right out of college. It takes years of experience to work up from an entry-level position, but it might not take quite as many years as it may seem. It’s common for business operation manager job descriptions to require a minimum of five years of progressively increasing experience at the management level. This includes overseeing multiple teams and/or departments. The required years of experience may be reduced if a candidate has a graduate degree such as an MBA.

Degree Path for Becoming a Business Operations Manager

Characteristics of Business Operations Managers

Most business operations managers are c-suite level executives. That means they are highly visible within the organization and appear near the top of the organizational chart. The most successful business operations managers have the following skills and characteristics.

Analytical thinking refers to a person’s ability to take on complex problems and scenarios through careful evaluation of data and information. This is perhaps the most important characteristic needed to be successful on the job. The main function of a business operations manager is to evaluate and improve the operations of an entire organization.

As a top executive in the company, leadership skills are critical. Employees at all levels must buy into the strategy and functions laid out by the operations manager. Poor leadership can result in:

  • low employee morale
  • reduced performance
  • poor organizational outcomes

People Skills
Similar to effective leadership, an effective business operations manager will have excellent people skills. He or she should demonstrate the ability to foster trust, goodwill, and motivation to those he or she oversees within the firm. Many of the decisions made by a business operations manager are executed by employees on the ground. Effective people skills go a long way in helping execute the mission and strategy laid out by the executive team.

Successful business operations managers are effective at developing effective policies that impact the entire organization in a positive manner while also being fair to individual employees. This balance takes careful and thoughtful planning and analysis. It requires a deep understanding of how policies impact the organization as a whole and the individuals within it.

The most successful business operations managers know how to balance intuitive and procedural thinking. Procedural thinking is the ability to think in logical and orderly sequences that positively impact:

  • efficiency
  • productivity
  • profits

It’s knowing what to do and having concrete steps on how to do it.

Business operations managers need to have the ability to analyze critical factors in an organization to develop a long-term plan that can lead to success. This type of strategic thinking is essential to the job. It’s about developing the long-term plan and vision in your mind, then laying out the steps needed to achieve the goal.

Written and Oral Communication
Communication is the ability to use verbal and nonverbal interaction, through various channels, between people and groups to influence outcomes. In short, the more effective the communication, the better the outcome. Business operations managers need to be excellent communicators across technology platforms, as well as in person. They should have the capacity to address both internal and external stakeholders in a way that will positively benefit the firm.

Business Operations Management Occupations

Business operations management jobs can be found in nearly any industry. The top industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, include:

  • management
  • scientific, & technical consulting companies
  • restaurants and other eating establishments
  • computer systems design services
  • merchant wholesalers

While these are the top-hiring industries, there are thousands of business operations manager jobs across various sectors of the economy.

Training for Management

Naturally, a high-paying and high-level job like a business operations manager isn’t an entry-level position. Many operations managers start at the bottom and work their way up to lower-level managerial positions and then finally to operations management roles, the BLS reported. Operations managers may be promoted within their own company or firm. They may be hired from outside the company for the management experience they have attained elsewhere.

Aspiring operations managers will have to prove themselves to their supervisors if they want to keep climbing up the ladder to higher-level jobs in management and administration. Sometimes they can grow their skills and their reputation in the company by going through company training programs and executive development programs.  Attaining management certification, also helps, the BLS reported.

Several executive business training programs can be completed at local colleges or universities, both in-person and online. Many institutions have created management and leadership operations certificates specifically designed for working professionals to complete as part of ongoing required training. These short-term certificates can often stand alone. Or they can be earned as part of an MBA or other type of graduate degree.

Industries also offer several different certifications and training programs through various industry-related organizations like the American Management Association and the National Management Association.

Degree Path for Becoming a Business Operations Manager

Business Operations Manager Job Outlook

Overall management occupations are expected to increase by 6% through 2029. The 6% rate of growth is two percentage points higher than the total growth for all occupations tracked by the BLS. The growth rate will be driven by increased business activities that will require new management positions to open up. It will also be driven by current managers retiring or changing positions. Candidates with advanced degrees and 10+ years of experience should expect strong job prospects. Candidates willing to move to large metropolitan areas with high employment opportunities should also experience better than average job prospects.

Business Operations Manager Earnings Potential

Business operations managers are typically one of the highest-ranking professionals in an organization. As such, their pay reflects their positions as important personnel responsible for many aspects of their organization. According to the BLS, the median pay for general and operations managers is $103,650 per year as of May 2020, with the lowest 10% earning $45,850 and the highest 10% earning $208,000. When looking at industries, professional, scientific, and technical services operations managers earn a median salary of $142,92, the highest of those in any industry. Manufacturing operations managers come in second with a median salary of $121,800.

Geographic location plays a salient role in salary levels for operations managers. New York, California, and Illinois rank as the top three, with the highest salaries ranging around $159,050. Many of the high salaries are concentrated in densely populated urban areas in these states such as:

  • New York City
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago

Final Thoughts on Becoming a Business Operations Manager

As you can see, there are several degree pathways to becoming a business operations manager. It starts with choosing the right undergraduate degree, which is commonly a business-related discipline. As an emphasis is put on formal education, many employers are sending their top performers back to school to earn an MBA. Along with the required education, it is important to gain experience at the management level and to show a track record of success.

Related Resources:

BDP Staff:
April 2021

This concludes our article on the best way to become a business operations manager.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris