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Atlanta comedian tells millennials why they should totally get an MBA

Not long after graduating from B-School (Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth), Paul Ollinger realized he had an $80,000 problem.

He wanted to be a comedian, but had to pay back those thousands of dollars in student loans. So off he went into the world of tech to work for Yahoo.


Ollinger never forgot the thrill of telling jokes in front of a crowd. After paying his debt, he moved to Los Angeles to do standup comedy full-time, hosting improv in LA and Orange County. Then he got engaged and decided to go straight again.

Olligner's friends convinced him to join a company called Facebook. He was the 250th employee. "I thought, 'This company could be as big as MySpace one day,' said Olligner, 47, who lives in Brookhaven with his wife and two children.

He may have stayed put in that cushy tech job if they hadn't suggested he move to Palo Alto. Ollinger, who grew up in Dunwoody, decided if he was going to move, he was coming home.

After another stint working for local tech company, Ollinger knew it was time to put his money on his mouth. He was a comedian at heart and while making the rounds on the Atlanta comedy scene, he sat down to write a funny book about business school.

"I realized snark doesn't scale and I needed to be useful to my reader and what came out was a note to my 25-year-old self telling him to get off of his butt and move in the right direction," said Ollinger.

The result "You Should Totally Get an MBA: A Comedian Guide to Top U.S. Business Schools," is available April 19.

Ollinger Cover_March_16

Ollinger hopes his readers, millennials and generations beyond, will find his book to be a balanced discussion about what an MBA can and cannot do for you.

"In the end your success is about your ambition, empathy and creativity in the workplace," he said. "Leading with your credentials is going to turn people off. What I got out of business school was an opportunity to learn a lot, to think hard about what I wanted to do with my career and also to really be around a group of people who were very intelligent, motivated and had very high expectations of themselves."

Ollinger was quick to clap back in December when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (a graduate of Harvard Business School) said an MBA wasn't necessary for a career in tech.

"Business school focused my passion, forged my resolve and launched me into the world ready to get after a new career," wrote Ollinger in response.

He suggested that tech giants like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Marc Benioff –- none of whom has an MBA -- may have accomplished even more if they did.

With his book, Ollinger offers his readers the kind of guidance that will help them think about the big questions. Are you prepared to spend a small fortune on a few years of B-school? Are you ready to do what it takes to get a positive return on your investment? Would you possibly stay in a career you're not as excited about to get that return?

"It will limit your ability to take risks or start your own business...or be a comedian," he said. But as Ollinger has demonstrated, no dream need be deferred forever.

While he doesn't plan on scoring a sitcom or writing movie scripts, Ollinger is enjoying his own brand of comedic success right here in Atlanta.

He is thrilled to have local venues such as Laughing Skull and the Punchline, clubs that get national recognition in the world of comedy. There are more than two dozen open mic nights around the city that serve as a breeding ground for some great up and coming comedians, he said.

Ollinger is taking his place among them while offering up his pieces of life wisdom in the written word. Writing, like B-school, is one of those massively stressful, time-consuming experiences that comes with a highly negative return on investment, said Ollinger. But nevertheless, as with comedy, he is compelled to move forward.

"I just really enjoy performing and I want to continue doing it and getting better at it," he said. "Doing it is what brings me great pleasure."

Catch Ollinger at the Best of Atlanta show at Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown on April 30, May 12-13 and May 29. For more information on appearances or to pre-order his book visit: .

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.