Meet Vanderbilt’s Owen MBA Class of 2017

Aaron Dorn

Aaron Dorn

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

Hometown:  Nashville, TN

Undergraduate School and Major: Florida State University. B.S. in Multinational Business Operations & Finance

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

 Regions Bank – Commercial Credit Underwriter (2003-2006)

Avenue Bank – Co-Founder (2006-2007)

Avenue Bank – Credit Underwriter (2007-2008)

United States Marine Corps – Intelligence Officer, promoted to the rank of Captain (2008-2012)

Avenue Bank – Director of Concierge Banking (2012-2014)

Avenue Bank – Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer (2014-2015)

Recalling your own experience, what advice do you have for applicants who are preparing for either the GMAT or the GRE? I took the GMAT three times. Each time, I scored over 700.  Why three times? The first score expired after five years, the second score got me into school, and the third score helped me finance my MBA with a scholarship. Needless to say, I am well acquainted with that agony-inducing test.

My advice to achieve a 700+ score is to realize that you are not really being tested on quantitative and verbal skills. Those are simply the prerequisites. You are being tested on your ability to quickly triage a puzzle that needs to be solved and to decide on the most efficient approach to solving the puzzle. Only then can you use those prerequisite skills as tools in your solution.

That perspective only comes when you have studied the puzzles themselves enough to identify and categorize them by type. At 2 minutes or less per problem, you have approximately 30 seconds to identify the approach, and 60-90 seconds to execute on it. So, that first 30 seconds is critical, and mastery of basic math and language rules will not be enough for you to see the approach that quickly. As such, each GMAT study session leading up to the test should include a slow, reflective mental review of how the puzzle was set up to be “unlocked” in the first 30 seconds. Take notes. Patterns will emerge. Then, you will begin to see the puzzles more clearly.

Finally, research the test itself. There are a lot of good blogs, YouTube videos, and paid programs available that will teach some great GMAT-specific test techniques. At the end of the day, unless you are a true outlier and genius, you will need to invest hours of disciplined, structured practice to achieve a 700+ score. Be sure to use that 2-minute time limit in practice sessions. In the words of Vince Lombardi, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

Based on your own selection process, what advice do you have for applicants who are trying to draw up a list of target schools to which to apply? What I have learned is that this decision is one’s first test in MBA-level strategic business leadership.

As a future MBA student, you are your own small business. Your most critical asset is yourself. If you plan to work for someone else (i.e. a company), you will essentially rent out the time and effort of your most critical asset in return for compensation (i.e. a salary). In order to increase your rent or find a new renter, you have decided to make investments to improve your asset. In order to identify the best investment, you need to have an idea of what you would like your rent to be or what type of renter you would like to attract. This is where research begins.

The hiring data and recruiting companies for each school are publicly available, along with the geographic statistics for where their graduates move upon completion. As you read through them, try to picture yourself making that much money and in those places. If you need more information, ask. Also, consider the environment in which your asset will be shaped. Do you want an ultra-competitive environment? Do you want an ultra-nurturing environment? How personalized and tailored is the career management office willing to be? Where do you want to live for two years while pursuing an MBA? Use these factors to consider the expected return on investment for your asset, in quantitative and in qualitative terms.

If you can clearly identify the strategic vision for your MBA pursuit, the rest will fall into place by process of elimination. Your GMAT score, cost of attendance, and acceptance will sufficiently narrow down the options. Then, go with your gut.

What advice do you have for applicants in actually applying to a school, writing essays, doing admission interviews, and getting recommenders to write letters on your behalf?  By the time you apply, your GMAT score and undergraduate GPA have sealed your fate, to some degree. So, all that you have left are the application, essays and letters of recommendation. They should all combine to tell a compelling true story about you. And they must be compelling enough for the admissions committee to want to hear more in an interview.

Before you write anything, consider your candidacy in light of potentially thousands of applicants. Why are you so special? When you have the answer, and it does not sound like thousands of other answers, craft a narrative about yourself that will leap off the page as both authentic and compelling. Make sure your recommenders understand the story you are telling about yourself, but let them write it themselves.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? Vanderbilt provides an individualized, hands-on, collaborative experience for its students and staff. It has a fantastic network of alumni around the world and in Nashville. The program has a healthcare concentration with the option to focus on entrepreneurship. Finally, Nashville is a wonderful and diverse city, worthy of serious consideration for any potential MBA student.

What would you ultimately like to achieve before you graduate? In pursuing an MBA, I left a successful career in senior leadership at my former company. I did so with the purpose of running my own business upon completion. I plan to pursue that vision in the form of a start-up or an acquisition. This serves as a two-year window in which I can crystallize and improve the management skills I have used in my career, gain new tools for evaluating and leading businesses, and identify the right opportunity for me to run a company.

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