“MBAs? We don’t need no stinkin’ MBAs?”
You can almost hear the sultans of Silicon Valley blurt that out in their best Black Bart accent. Let’s face it: an MBA is almost an albatross in some startup circles. To them, entrepreneurship is rooted in muse and mettle, vision and versatility — a mysterious, magical, miraculous mix of luck and pluck. Such narratives may feed their egos and brand them as the high priests of commerce. However, they provide little meat-and-potatoes know-how on how to launch and (more importantly) sustain a successful business.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP BASED ON DATA AND A “COLD HARD COMMAND OF FACTS”
That’s where the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business steps in. Forget fawning magazine profiles or cushy cash outs. At McCombs, entrepreneurship eschews the mythology in favor of an intensive fusion of academic rigor, multidisciplinary exploration, and experiential practice. “What we emphasize are data driven approaches,” says Rob Adams, a senior lecturer at McCombs and director of its Texas Venture Labs, in a 2015 interview. “A lot of entrepreneurs tend to wave their hands and try to get you all enthusiastic. We like all that, but we also like what I call the ‘cold hard command of facts’: Competitive analysis, market validation, business model. In a nutshell, we’re asking: Are we going to make money doing this?”
In fact, entrepreneurship has emerged as a cornerstone of the McCombs MBA notes Logan Robinson, a research fellow with the Texas Venture Labs. He argues that entrepreneurship is a strategy as much as a discipline, making it relevant to founders and future executives alike. In other words, it is another model for framing and solving problems. For Adams, that approach makes the McCombs MBA all the more valuable. “The reality is, entrepreneurs are just good business people who are dealing with a restraint of resources,” he adds. “Our point is this: If you want to increase the probability that your startup is going to work, bring it through an MBA program – and what comes out is not going to be what you started with. Take 18 months of acceleration, get a degree, and have a much better business plan that’s much more fundable when you’re done.”
Alas, funding can start long before graduation. Applicants whose business plans win McCombs’ Texas Venture Lab Scholarship Competition can earn a full ride to the MBA program. You won’t find a better entrepreneurial incubator than Austin, Texas, known as “Silicon Hills” for its thriving startup scene and the “Live Music Capital of the World” for its many music venues and festivals. This startup chic and social Shangri-la was an unbeatable combination for Josh Berrington, a first year from San Francisco who was one of two winners from the 2016 Venture Lab Competition.
“Entrepreneurship is deeply ingrained at McCombs, and the entrepreneurial culture of Austin extends perfectly into the program,” he observes. “McCombs has created an inspiring and supportive environment for budding entrepreneurs at all stages. The unique backdrop of Austin provides built-in resources and tools that are accessible to those interested in furthering their startup ideas. The Texas Venture Labs pitch competition is one proof point of the program’s commitment to entrepreneurship. Participating in the competition allowed me to see first-hand the substantial resources and energy McCombs is putting behind entrepreneurship.”
FROM PLAYING A DISNEY CHARACTER TO DEVELOPING SHANGHAI DISNEY
Indeed, you could say that the McCombs full-time MBA has been buoyed by a certain energy in recent years. Ranked as the top MBA program in accounting by U.S. News — with stellar programs in entrepreneurship, marketing, management, and information systems to match — the school recruited one of its best classes yet in 2015-2016. Here, you’ll find students who learned the ropes at top firms like Booz Allen, Deloitte, JP Morgan, Rolls Royce, Credit Suisse, and PwC. Hailing from programs as distinct as Princeton and the U.S. Military Academy — and working in fields ranging from acting to biophysics —the Class of 2018 seemingly covers every walk of life. Many have come to Austin after holding overseas posts as well. Such rich backgrounds and brainpower are bound to spark some of the most insightful discussions of any global MBA program.
It’s a fun group too. John Adamo, who is earning a dual MBA with an MA in Energy & Earth Resources, is a licensed skydiver. Before working as a senior financial analyst at Disney Imagineering, Ashley Hemphill played characters at the Disney Parks in Orlando, Florida. At West Point, Micah Lockhart was part of the Army Mule Riding Team, “a small club responsible for riding, grooming and showing the three mule mascots at sporting and special events.” If you think culture and language are the only barriers in international travel, wait until you hear this one from Stephanie Hobart. “I have traveled to Hobart, Tasmania, and everyone there thought I was joking when I told them my last name! Hobart,” she quips.
Professionally, the class could be described as doers who aren’t afraid to tackle high profile, heavy lift projects. As a brand manager at TerraVia, Berrington helped to launch a new algae-based oil ingredient that popped so successfully that it ended up being featured in 100 major media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Oprah Magazine. At Deloitte, Julia Brannan helping a client spin out of an unprofitable offering, saving them an estimated $20 million dollars over the next 20 years. And Hemphill spent three years in China during the development and launch of the Shanghai Disney Resort, which she calls “one of the most culturally ambitious and largest investments in The Walt Disney Company’s history.”
If you think that’s big, brace yourself for Abhinav Chandra, who was a key player in “multi-billion dollar IPO of a Taiwanese Pay TV business.” Considering what was involved in the transaction, you probably won’t hear a peep from Chandra about the McCombs workload. “I had to deal with a fair amount of complexity in managing the various international stakeholders involved, and their differing perceptions on the structure of the listing,” he explains. “In the absence of any such precedent in the home market of the company, I had to thrive in ambiguity and rely in many cases on strong gut instincts while negotiating with and convincing the investors. I travelled incessantly between our Asia offices and our several international roadshows, managing time-sensitive deliverables across banks, regulators, lawyers and accountants — constantly reconciling competing point of views.”
Weighing different viewpoints is Landon Hairgrove’s specialty. An aide to two U.S. Senators (John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison), Hairgrove can click off a list of goodies that he helped deliver to various constituencies. However, those accomplishments pale in comparison to what he considers to be his biggest accomplishment. “I take the greatest pride in the many hours spent just listening, trying to understand the needs of real people, businesses, and communities, and hopefully doing my part to make the weird world of Washington, D.C. a little more open and responsive to the many challenges they face.” This desire to make life easier for others is something he shares with Lockhart, who led a 40 solider scout platoon in Iraq. “My biggest accomplishment has been returning home safely with all of my soldiers and completing two humanitarian projects, which included handing out school supplies to local Iraqi children in our area of responsibility.”
CLASS STATS RISE ACROSS THE BOARD
So how does the Class of 2018 stack up against previous McCombs MBAs? Quite well, for sure. For one, the program witnessed an uptick in applications during the 2015-2016 cycle. They shot up from 2,293 to 2,530, a 10% jump in just one year. At the same time, the class size slipped from 265 to 263 members, though the program’s 28% acceptance rate remained comparable to similarly-ranked programs like Cornell and Washington University.
Academically, the class shined, says Tina Mabley, assistant dean for the full-time MBA program. “With an average GMAT of 700 and median GMAT score of 710, the full-time Class of 2018 boasts the highest GMAT scores of past incoming classes and six points higher than the Class of 2017. The average GPA for the class is 3.42, also higher than last year.” Overall, GMAT scores ranged from 650 to 750 in the 80% range, with GPAs running from 2.97 to 3.87 in that same span.
The big news was the rise in the percentage of women, which climbed from 32% to 37% with the 2018 Class, a higher rate than UCLA, Duke, INSEAD and New York University. In addition, 23% of the class is comprised of U.S. minorities, including 13% from underrepresented minority populations. At the same time, 27% of the class hails from outside the United States and represent 17 countries. Mabley notes that the highest percentage of McCombs students are from Texas (28%), followed by California (10%), the DC area (10%), and the New York area (8%).
Eerily, 27% of the incoming class earned undergraduate degrees in business-related fields — the same percentage as the previous class. Engineering degrees were earned by 26% of the 2018 Class, up five points from last year. Economics (16%) and humanities and social sciences (13%) undergrads make up other large blocs of the class. Like most business schools, financial services professionals boast the highest representation in the class. That said, it is a relatively diverse class with only financial services (18%), consulting (15%), technology (11%), and petroleum and energy (11%) reaching double digits.