2015 Best MBAs: Tim O’Neil

Tim O'Neil-Minnesota-PoetsAndQuants

Tim O’Neil


University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

How is this for living the business school dream? Last December, Tim O’Neil’s venture was featured on the front page of the Minneapolis StarTribune. Talk about a smash debut! O’Neil, a former Marine Corps infantry officer, epitomizes dedication. Commuting three hours to Minneapolis daily while raising two young children, O’Neil is known as a student who leads by example and tackles the hard challenges. No wonder his company is called Fidelis (“faithful”).

Age: 32

Current Hometown: Rochester, MN

Undergraduate School: University of Wisconsin – Madison

Undergraduate Degree: Economics ‘05

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Prior to enrolling at the Carlson School of Management, I spent seven years in the Marine Corps as an Infantry Officer from 2006 to 2013. I deployed twice, lived on both coasts, and in my last billet was responsible for helping run the Marine Corps’ recruiting effort in the upper Midwest.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2014? Between my first and second year at Carlson, I spent the summer working on the growth and development of Fidelis Co., a company I had founded while in school that makes packs, bags and accessories. In addition to Fidelis Co., I worked on Veterans Capital Partners, a social enterprise that eases the transition for veterans looking for opportunities in entrepreneurship. Both roles took place in Minneapolis.

Where will you be working after graduation? I’ll continue to grow and develop Fidelis Co., post-graduation. This March, my business partner and I successfully executed a Kickstarter campaign that will give us both the momentum and resources for the foreseeable future.

Favorite Courses: My favorite courses revolve around the tactical and strategic importance of communicating with the customer—particularly the pricing, buyer behavior, and digital marketing courses I took. What made the courses truly relevant was how they were connected with one another. After learning high level strategic frameworks early on in classes such as Pricing and Buyer Behavior, we were then able to follow up at the tactical level in Digital Marketing where the instructor brought in external lectures that were on the cutting edge of the latest technologies being used in digital marketing.

In addition to the above courses, my business partner (and classmate) and I accelerated the launch of Fidelis through a course called STARTUP. This course centered on the Lean Start-up framework of testing and validating assumptions and was meant for participants to work on their own start-ups. This course not only partnered our company with key mentors with relevant practical experience from the community who offered early-stage advice and consideration, but it also provided an initial opportunity for my partner and I to work together on the business in a classroom environment to test out how we worked together before entering in to a formal business partnership. This opportunity was invaluable, and ultimately, led us to become equity partners together in Fidelis Co.

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? I am most proud of earning a commission in the Marine Corps, gaining the rank of Capitan, and starting Fidelis Co. and growing it to a point where medium-term success seems like a realistic possibility.

Who would you most want to thank for your success (and why)? I would thank my wife. Without her support, guidance and counsel there is no way I would have been able to accomplish what I have to this point. Professionally, I’d most want to thank Major Michael Ogden, a Marine I once worked for. Under his direction, I learned about the concept of “force of will” or the notion that if you simply do not rest until a certain objective, milestone or measure is achieved then that only is often enough to predicate success.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Carlson initially because of their involvement in easing and supporting the transition from the Marine Corps to the classroom. However, over time, I have realized they offer opportunities and have helped support me in so many other ways. For example, the community they plug you into is unparalleled—being a large research-based University in a major metro area allows the faculty to draw on a wealth of expertise from several different industries—all of which is critically valuable as one begins to build or grow their own professional network. Additionally, the school has an experiential learning component where students work on fee-based projects brought to Carlson by external clients. This opportunity to have hands-on experience over the course of three semesters is really unparalleled and helped me develop strong business experience that I will draw on both in the MBA program, and after graduation.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I enjoyed the camaraderie of classmates, building new friendships, and deepening life-long relationships. The opportunity to meet like-minded peers, learn from their experiences, understand their goals and ambitions as well as they mine is something that can never be undervalued.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? I think what really drove home for me how much the entire community of Carlson wants to see its students succeed was when we launched our Kickstarter campaign a little over a month ago. We (my business partner is in the same class as I am at Carlson in the MBA program) had expected to see involvement from the class at some level, but did not expect much more than that. However, once we launched the campaign ,the support was tremendous: We had classmates, administrators, advisors and career coaches all sharing our campaign on social media, supporting by backing reward levels, and lending us their time and expertise to refine and perfect our campaign. Without their help, it is unclear if we would have been as successful as we were. I was taken aback at how overwhelming the support was.

What made Tim such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015?

“Tim has been an inspiration to the students around him, most certainly the entrepreneurial minded risk takers that came to our school to leverage new business start up programming.  With his singular focus on Fidelis Co., Tim and his partner have introduced to the student body an “all for one, one for all” mentality.  The support offered by fellow classmates at their KickStarter launch party brought alumni, faculty, student and staff together.

Tim’s work on starting his own company has now become a model for other veterans in the program.  Tim’s investment and resulting success will reinforce our veteran outreach efforts and provide an additional structure for military to MBA student transitions.

Tim’s work with the Sands Fellowship program and internship with Gopher Angels brought together the unique experience found at the Carlson School and larger University.

When informed of the nomination, Tim’s favorite professor Seth Werner wrote:

“Tim O’Neil is a Top 50 MBA Graduate. Not just because he is an excellent student, but because he is an excellent leader. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have Tim in a class with me on campus, and also on a two week study abroad program to Argentina and Chile. It is easy for me to recall the many instances when Tim’s question prompted a moment of enlightenment or when Tim took initiative when others were hesitant. The best part of Tim’s leadership style is his unassuming manner. He leads by example, by completing, by accomplishment, by showing what success looks like.”

–Patrick McCarthy, Director of Student Affairs, Full-Time & Part-Time MBA Programs

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