2016 Best MBAs: Austin Ayres, SMU Cox

Austin Ayres SMU

Austin Ayres


Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business

“The greatest service students can do in their two-year tenure is to help their fellow students…Austin took it upon himself personally to spend countless hours with any student who wanted coaching to review management cases in order to prepare for interviews. He made himself available whenever students requested help, day or night. This is what separates Austin from his peers and what exemplifies his dedication to his classmates and to the school. Selflessness, dedication, effort: this defines Austin’s leadership.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Education: Vanderbilt University, BA in History with a minor in Biology

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? United States Navy, Surface Warfare Officer

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Deloitte Consulting, Dallas Office

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Consulting, Senior Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business United States Navy Reserve – Officer in Charge of a unit at the Naval Operational Support Center Fort Worth; Consulting Club – President; Awards – Business Dean’s Scholarship; Cox School of Business Merit-Based Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the time I have spent serving as the President of the Consulting Club for three reasons. First, I have had the privilege of putting together a highly functioning team of top achievers in our class who also share a passion for not only giving back, but also for helping students achieve their professional goals. My team was selected because the team members had all successfully attained a consulting internship the prior summer and were uniquely positioned to provide feedback and guidance for the new class of students. Second, my team and I were able to adapt our consulting preparation at SMU to better reflect what firms are looking for. Understanding the need for individualized attention and mentorship, we shifted our model from primarily group preparation to one that highlighted primarily individual preparation, where my team and I could sit down one-on- one with students and focus on important aspects of interview preparation, case analysis, and resume strength. My team’s hard work saw a great return, yielding an increase in participation of 150 percent over last year, but more importantly an increase of 200 percent for placement of students in consulting internships. Third, my team and I were able to continue to strengthen bonds with not only the administration, but also the career center and our SMU Cox alumni. Continuing to solidify our coalition, we have made great in-roads to work hand-in-hand with our career center to not only better serve our students, but to create more continuity from year-to-year now that my team and I see our short tenure as the club’s leaders come to an end.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was very proud to be selected as an Operations Officer for a squadron of ships in a forward deployed unit and as the aide to our Commodore as a young Lieutenant Junior Grade, a position typically reserved for officers with many more years of experience. Throughout my time with the Commodore, we established an extremely strong rapport which allowed him to vest many responsibilities to me that should have been far beyond my years.

This experience was transformational in many ways. First, it allowed me to not only become experienced in the board room setting, but also to become comfortable briefing CEO equivalent leaders in the military on a frequent basis. Second, it allowed me to further develop my communication skills, needing to articulate the Commodore’s orders to all levels of sailors, from deck seaman to commanding officers, as well as to articulate their feedback to him in a manner that allowed us to quickly and adeptly make real time updates to plans. Third, it allowed me to gain a multitude of experience working with multinational coalitions and foreign governments as we served as a forward deployed unit in an active theatre of operation. This international experience peaked my interest in the world of business. My position as the Commodore’s aide played a strong role in my path to business school.

Who is your favorite professor? It’s hard to select just one professor, but I would have to say Helmuth Ludwig has left a strong, lasting impression on me. Helmuth, unlike many of our professors, is an adjunct and still works full time as an Executive Vice President here in Dallas. From Germany originally, he was the perfect person to teach our International Business Strategy course. His well thought out structure to the class enhanced our learning of the material as he used a Socratic approach to discussing cases, intertwined with guest speakers to bring the concepts alive after a discussion.

On day one, he started by teaching five to six frameworks from which one could dissect a problem approaching a firm engaged in international business. The following seven class periods were then applications of those initial frameworks in a variety of situations. At the end of the course, my classmates and I could confidently look at each other and say that we felt comfortable not only with several new frameworks, but also in how to apply them in a real world scenario. What always impressed me about Helmuth is that he had a strong gift for taking ideas out of the classroom. He was excellent at connecting the dots between the theoretical and the practical sides of the implementation of ideas in real world scenarios.

Favorite MBA Courses? I would have to say that my favorite MBA course is a toss-up between courses in Strategy and Analytics/Big Data. The strategy courses are fascinating because of the conversation that ensues from a seemingly terse question, especially when the ‘what if’ scenarios become introduced. The Big Data courses are fascinating, though, because they are at the cutting edge of what is relevant in today’s business environment. A mentor once told me that when he started in business (about 60 years ago), you could learn one thing a month and stay ahead of the competition. The pace that one is required to learn new material has exponentially increased as time has progressed and we see that being illustrated brilliantly in the work of Analytics.

Why did you choose this business school? For me, the Cox School of Business was a natural choice. Not only was I born and raised in Dallas, but my family still lives here. Additionally, my father had earned his MBA from SMU Cox after he had completed his service in the Navy, so I had already been able to see firsthand how impactful a Cox MBA is. In addition to the strong alumni network Cox touts, the ace up the school’s sleeve is its location in the vibrant business landscape of Dallas, one of the fastest growing job markets in our country. SMU Cox seemed like the perfect choice.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I really enjoyed getting to know my fellow classmates and hear about the diverse array of experiences and backgrounds that we all brought to our conversations. Coming from the military, I was more or less used to being around people with similar approaches to scenarios. What was fascinating to hear in and out of class was the approach that everyone would take to the same situation – same information, same parameters – and take starkly different approaches. What was great was that very few approaches were ever wrong once you were able to further dissect the respective answers and understand their approaches. This realization highlighted further for me the necessity of diversity on teams to allow natural synergies to help lead us to the best solution for a problem. I thoroughly look forward to keeping up with my classmates and seeing the heights that they are all able to achieve.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? The most surprising thing about business school was that a large majority of our class came in either not knowing what industry they wanted to pursue a career in or changing that potential career from what they initially thought they wanted to do. It highlighted to me that the first several months of business school provide a great opportunity to survey as many industries and careers as you would like. I know coming from the military, I was at first apprehensive of being undecided as to what career I wanted to pursue on day one. I had little private sector experience and thought that would put me far behind the power curve. It was reassuring to know that I was not only not alone in that feeling, but that many from the administration were encouraging us to pursue many different avenues to meet with as many alumni as possible to give us the tools we needed to make the most informed decision possible. I am very thankful for all of my meetings and experiences and for everyone who took 20 minutes out of their day to talk to a first year MBA student. All of those engagements have made me fully confident that I have selected the right career for me.

What was the hardest part of business school? The hardest part about business school was most certainly mastering time management. Especially during that first year, you really feel like you are drinking from a fire hose – you’re trying to get a handle on a difficult course load, having a plethora of info sessions to attend, becoming active in clubs, trying to balance your home life, all while trying to remember how to be a student again after years in the work force.

The long days and intense preparation paid off though. And that is the message we try to pass along to the next year’s students. Hard work now can have long lasting rewards down the road. But between second year students, the alumni, the career center, and the administration, there are many resources there to help you learn to manage an overloaded schedule, and also help you succeed as students further developed their time management skills.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I saw the positive impact that my dad was able to have on so many people’s lives. As I will mention shortly, I had originally planned on going into healthcare for that very reason – of being able to help people. But when I began to understand the role that business truly has, not only in our country but also in the world, I knew this was the right path for me.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a cardiothoracic surgeon.”

What are your long-term professional goals? My long-term professional goals still take the form of larger ideals versus specific points. I absolutely loved my work over the summer and cannot wait to start in the consulting world full-time after graduation. Not only is the work extremely rewarding, but I find it extremely exhilarating to have the privilege of being around so many great, interesting people on a day-to-day basis. I hope to still be as enthusiastic 30 years from now as I am today about the work I am doing. I always hope to be able to provide for my family on a level that allows us to enjoy time together. I still hope it will be impactful and meaningful and more than just a paycheck. I think most people want to help others – not only is it an admirable goal, but it is something that we grow up being taught is the pinnacle of success. Until just a few years ago, my understanding of ‘helping people’ was primarily relegated to the field of health care, where you could make a quick, tangible, and positive effect on someone’s life. It wasn’t until a conversation with my dad years after undergraduate school that I realized that same ability to help people was even more prevalent in the business world – where you could create jobs for people and truly impact their quality of life through not only employment, but also innovation. I am extremely enthusiastic about the prospects of my role in consulting, and I look forward to helping many top tier companies and am anxious to see what path this work leads me down.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I’d like to thank my family – my father, mother, brother, grandparents, and fiancé – for their unwavering support not only throughout my entire MBA experience, but my entire life. From my parents’ hard work throughout their life to light a great path for my brother and me to follow to their continued sound counsel and guidance, I would neither be who I am or able to accomplish the things that I have without their strength, support, and direction. My family truly is the center of my world and I will always be thankful for their continued role in my life.

Fun fact about yourself: Prior to joining the Navy, I worked in a radiation oncology research lab and am a published cancer biologist.

Favorite book: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

Favorite movie: The Big Short

Favorite musical performer: Randy Rogers Band

Favorite television show: Shark Tank

Favorite vacation spot: Destin, Florida

Hobbies? Spending time with my family, working out, and trying to become handier at home repairs

What made Austin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“Austin Ayres is someone who has led by example. He arrived at SMU Cox with a strong naval officer background and little business experience, but he soon found a strong niche in consulting. His hard work and dedication to academic excellence has been an inspiration. Despite his minimal business background, he took every challenge head on and did very well in all of his course work. Ultimately, he parlayed his degree work and volunteer experience into a great summer internship at Deloitte, followed by a stellar post-graduate job offer, and a key Cox leadership position as President of the Cox Managing Consulting Club. He has made it a key point to work hand-in-hand with students, alumni, and the administration to form a coalition for success that has helped set our consulting club on track for success for years to come.

The greatest service students can do in their two-year tenure is to help their fellow students. This is where much of the learning in business school takes place. Austin took it upon himself personally to spend countless hours with any student who wanted coaching to review management cases in order to prepare for interviews. He made himself available whenever students requested help, day or night. This is what separates Austin from his peers and what exemplifies his dedication to his classmates and to the school. Selflessness, dedication, effort: this defines Austin’s leadership, and it’s why SMU Cox nominates Austin Ayres.” — Michael Caplan, Assistant Dean, Student Services for Graduate Programs, Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business


Comments or questions about this article? Email us.