My Story: From Bloomingdale’s to Cornell B-School

How did you choose Cornell?

I actually started looking at schools with luxury retail programs, so ESSEC and HEC in France, and then I switched to New York City where I looked at Stern and Columbia.  I ultimately applied through a consortium, which has a common application you can use for up to six members schools. I applied to Johnson, Michigan, Stern, Tuck, Haas and Yale.  I got into Cornell, but not the others.  I’m glad I applied to all of them, though, because preparing my pitch for the other schools helped me to refine my Johnson application. I made a lot of mistakes in the process.

I first heard about Cornell during an MBA fair in New York City.  I visited a lot of schools during the application process, where I would talk to current students and faculty. Most students would pass along their contact information and offer to answer any further questions. What stood out for me at Cornell is that they would do all of this and more. If I asked a question they didn’t know, they would go that next step and put me in touch with someone who had the answer.  That appealed to me. I’m a networker.

I thought, if this is happening to me as a perspective student, then just imagine what it must be like if you’re an alum.  That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to go to business school – to develop a network. That spirit is innate in the school’s culture. It just felt like home.

Can you describe an average day as an MBA?

Richard Battle-Baxter sports his Beat the GMAT shirt in Brazil during his second-year Spring Break Trek

Richard Battle-Baxter sports his “Beat the GMAT” shirt in Brazil during his second-year Spring Break Trek

It really depends on where you are in the program – it’s very different during the core curriculum versus the end of second year. During the core, you might have a quiz at 7:30 a.m., then classes started  at 8:40 a.m.  You would have three classes back-to-back.  You finish class at 1:10 p.m. and probably send emails to alums for informational interviews – each email can take 30 to 40 minutes to write because you’re constantly reworking them and asking for feedback. Then you’ll meet with your core team to work on a group project for two hours. After that, there might be a corporate briefing at 6 p.m., and then you’ll need to attend the cocktail reception afterwards – that’s an hour of just standing around in what we call crop circles (a cluster of students gathered around a recruiter). Finally, after the reception, you start on your homework or study for exams, which are often on weekends.

I managed to maintain a social life because that was important to me – it kept me balanced. We don’t have classes on Wednesdays and Fridays. So on Tuesday nights, you may have a group project and club activities, but generally you could let loose a little bit. Thursday you have Sage Social, which is a weekly networking event with drinks and food for people to come together before the weekend.

What advice would you give prospective MBA students?

When researching a program, you have to get past the veneer of the website. Pretty much all business schools say they’re collaborative, but they’re collaborative in different ways.  So you have to figure out what sets a particular school apart.  A lot of small schools look similar, but they each have different cultures.

You definitely need to visit the school no matter where you are in the world.  You’re competing against people from all over the globe who will make sure they visit the campus. But you’re not visiting just to check off a box that says “I visited” – you want to understand the culture so that you can make a case for why you fit with a particular school.

You should also talk to current students and alums. And don’t limit your questions to the core curriculum.  For most programs the core is only a quarter of the experience, so focus on other aspects – that also shows you’ve done your research.

Make sure to ask real questions. I’m amazed by the number of stock questions we’ve received. So don’t write, “Tell me about your experience.”  But, ” I heard X, have you found that to be the case? If not, what was your experience?”

Do you have an obscure talent or accomplishment that most people might not know about you?

I was actually a college cheerleader for two years and later coached an all-star cheerleading squad in New Jersey for three years. We won the World Cheerleading Championships. And yes, I can still do a back flip at 31.

What is one thing you would change about your Cornell experience?

One of the things I found difficult was managing the stress – not so much the personal stress, but the overall atmosphere.

Johnson has 275 students so we’re a small school – we’re all in the same building every day. When a group of people are stressed out over recruiting, we all feel it.  There’s this intense recruitment period from mid-October through February when people are under a lot of pressure, the stress is contagious.

I’m the type of person who wants to calm everybody down, so that was very difficult.  But I don’t know if there’s anything the school could have done to mitigate the situation. You go to business school so you can get a job afterwards.