Early in his career, Nick Arena tried to earn a Master's in Business Administration (MBA). Twice he was unable to continue his studies due to busy work and family schedules.
When he decided to finish his MBA at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, he was concerned that, in his 50s, it might be too late.
"It was a personal thing for me," he said. "I tried in the 80s, but I was just too busy."
"I went into the program wondering if I could compete with the younger students," Arena said. "My first term paper scared the devil out of me."
"I am not that good with computers, so that was an issue," he said. "When I was an undergraduate, the computer was in a big, secure room, and we used punch cards."
Arena, who is general manager of Acme Electric's Lumberton plant, received his coveted diploma May 10, 2003. He was named the outstanding MBA student in his graduating class.
Early on in the program, the manufacturing executive decided that age and experience is his best assets.
"As a general manager, I am involved in every area of the business," he said. "There was something I took out of every class and was able to put it in to action immediately."
Youth was the only handicap that Arena observed. The younger students right out of college lacked real world business experience, he said.
"That had to make it more difficulty for them to relate to some of the material," Arena said. "What separated me from many of the students, is that I was interested in just about every area we studied," Arena said. "I could see the practical applications."
"Sometimes it was harder to keep the number of page of my term papers down to the professors requirements," he said.
He also took three courses via the Internet.
"That was a good experience, but, in my mind, it does not replace the classroom," Arena said. "Some of my professors are great lecturers. You can't do that over the Internet."
The only thing that suffered was his golf game, the Pinehurst resident said.
"I had a lot of support from my family," Arena said. "I work pretty long hours, so I studied on Saturdays. Sitting on my deck with a laptop, it was tough watching the golfers."
Arena said the MBA program is very convenient for working people, and he recommends it to his managers at Acme. A Philadelphia native and Villanova graduate, he spent a career rising through the management ranks at several Fortune 500 companies before accepting the position of vice president and general manager of Acme's Lumberton operation.
"I would endorse this MBA program for business people," he said. "I had some of the best professors I have ever had."
"The education you get here would compete with the big name schools," Arena said.
Acme Electric, which manufactures electric power conditioning devices, has in Lumberton since 1968. It employs approximately 200 today and is owned by Key Components, Inc., headquartered in Tarrytown, N.Y.
The MBA program at UNCP requires 12 courses and 36 hours and is also offered at Richmond and Sandhills community colleges. For more information, call (910) 521-6637 or online at www.uncp.edu/business/mba.htm.