Applying for MBA programs is often a lonely, miserable affair. But, notes U.S. Navy Special Operations Lieutenant Brian Smith, misery loves company. And fortunately for Smith, the MBA application ordeal was not lonely. He had familiar and collaborative company while studying for the GMAT and applying to elite business schools: best friends from Naval Academy who had gone into different military jobs but shared the types of experience highly prized by B-schools and business – especially the ability to make quick decisions in ambiguous situations with sky-high stakes.
Now, Smith and his friends Ben Allen and Matt Beaudette, also Navy lieutenants no longer in service, have just started their MBA programs, Smith and Beaudette at Harvard Business School, Allen at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. Each had followed a separate path from the Academy to B-school, but the friendship that began when they were roommates there continued and strengthened as the following years sent them all over the world, to wars both hot and cold.
“Matt is literally the first person I met in the Navy,” Smith says. On the same day, in July 2003, they would meet Allen.
While the three roommates progressed through the training and sports of their Academy days – Beaudette was a gymnast, Allen a rower, and Smith a boxer – to active duty, they pushed each other all the time.
DRIVING EACH OTHER THROUGH EVERY ARENA
“One thing that made us close was that we came from these different backgrounds and as a result we were constantly . . . challenging each other to be better across the board, whether it was physically on the playing field, or in the classroom, or in our military responsibilities,” Smith says.
Allen had grown up in Orlando, Florida. Beaudette was from Boston’s South Shore. Smith hailed from California’s capital, Sacramento. The three Class of 2007 Naval Academy grads are now 30.
As the end of their time at the Academy approached, Beaudette and Smith decided to supplement their education with a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University. They started the program concurrently with their final Academy term, and received their master’s degrees eight months after graduating from the Academy.
The three friends’ U.S. Navy careers diverged after their schooling. Beaudette and Allen went into the nuclear Navy. Allen, a surface nuclear warfare officer based in San Diego and Pearl Harbor, had one counter-narcotics deployment to Central and South America, and two deployments to Southeast Asia and the Middle East on an aircraft carrier. Beaudette, an assistant weapons officer on a nuclear-missile submarine, patrolled in the Atlantic. Smith went into special operations and became an explosive ordinance disposal officer, trained to disarm conventional, chemical, and biological weapons, and respond to nuclear accidents. Deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan, then to various Middle East locations for the next two years, he spent nine months between 2012 and 2013 back in Afghanistan, destroying improvised explosive devices amid frequent firefights with insurgents.