2016 MBAs To Watch: Steven Bruce, Minnesota (Carlson)

Steve Bruce-Minnesota-PoetsAndQuants_MBAsToWatch2016

Steven Bruce

Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota

Age: 27

Hometown: Plymouth, MN

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Minnesota, B.S. of Computer Science

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Siemens, Senior Software Engineer – Smart Grid

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Adobe, Product Manager – Document Services

Where will you be working after graduation? Adobe, Product Manager – Document Services

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business:

  • Founder, Autonomee LLC
  • Semi-finalist, MN Cup
  • Bronze winner, Acara Challenge
  • President, Business Technology Club
  • Co-president, Ventures+ Club
  • Steering Committee Member, Tech Cities conference
  • Fellow, Sands Fellowship
  • Fellow, Full-time MBA Admissions & Recruiting
  • Consultant, Carlson Ventures Enterprise
  • Intern, Gopher Angels
  • Graduate Assistant, Office for Technology Commercialization
  • Volunteer Team Lead, Carlson Goes to Work
  • Volunteer, Junior Achievement
  • Volunteer, Reve Academy
  • Volunteer, E is for Entrepreneur

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud that I helped launch the annual technology conference Tech Cities. Minnesota faces a massive tech worker shortage — we don’t have enough tech professionals to meet future demand. Our goal was to start a conversation around this problem and others. We planned to highlight Minnesota innovation and strengthen our tech community. In just a few short months, we organized the Tech Cities conference and it was wildly successful. Our event spawned other local initiatives, including DocuMNtary: The Story of Tech in Minnesota. This year’s conference brought together 400 professionals, students, and faculty to continue the conversation.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my professional career, I’m most proud of my product management internship experience at Adobe last year. Adobe launched the Document Cloud platform a couple months before I started. Gaining customer insights about the new platform was the focus of my team when I arrived. For my intern project, they asked me to get inside the head of the customer. My summer started with an end-to-end user experience review of Document Cloud. It was so well-received by my team that they asked me to present at an all-hands meeting for our business unit, all within the first 30 days. Then, I helped craft new marketing messages based on a competitive analysis. At the end of the summer, I prepared a recommendation for a decision that had a large impact on the future of a product. It is because of my work that I received an offer to return to that team full-time.

Who is your favorite professor? Carlson Ventures Enterprise Director Toby Nord. His teaching is confident, informed, and extends outside the classroom. His knowledge of the material is evident and he uses his deep industry experience to add context. It is an effective combination. Beyond that, he takes the time to understand our motivations. Every semester, Toby has individual conversations with us about our personal and professional goals. He’s always thinking about how he might help each of us achieve success. Toby is not only a professor, but also a mentor in my life.

Favorite MBA Courses? My favorite courses were ones that allowed me to work on venturing problems that I wanted to solve. My own business was my tool for learning in the STARTUP: Customer Development and Testing and Social Venture Launchpad courses. Outside of that, I worked on real-life consulting projects in the Carlson Ventures Enterprise. These courses all had a common thread: We learned the Lean Startup framework of testing and validating assumptions to find product-market-fit.

I also connected with a course called Surprisingly Irrational Consumer Behavior. I’m fascinated by the surprising and funny things that people do. This course taught me how we can make a big impact on consumer behaviors by using simple “nudges.” A nudge is anything that influences our choices. Institutions could gently nudge people in a direction that will make their lives better.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose the Carlson School for three reasons: First, the opportunity to work on resume-worthy projects as part of the enterprise programs was invaluable. Second, the top-ranked career center could help me achieve my professional goals. Third, the return on investment was impressive because school is an investment like any other.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I most enjoyed the abundant access to new opportunities I discovered in business school. There are plenty of ways to get involved with clubs and volunteering at school. Outside of that, the Carlson School’s alumni and extended network are always looking for student involvement. I helped launch an annual technology conference called Tech Cities. I spent some time with the University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization. I worked with an angel investing network called Gopher Angels. I gained support and competed in business plan competitions with my own business Autonomee LLC. These are just a few highlights of the many opportunities I found at the Carlson School.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? The biggest lesson I gained from business school is how to make product decisions based on business insights and objectives. Before business school, I was a software engineer who couldn’t always see the big picture. I didn’t have a strong grasp of the business reasons behind product road maps. Engineers are often attracted to working on innovative projects, regardless of any business case. I was no different. Now, I have a deeper understanding of the role business functions play in decision-making. I’ve learned to consider the return on investment and motivations of the organization. I can speak both languages — the business and the technical. I can not only see the big picture, but I’m able to paint it.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? The most surprising thing about business school was the culture fit. I genuinely like every single person in my class. Many of my classmates have said the same thing. The Carlson School is a special place where life-long bonds are forged.

What was the hardest part of business school? The hardest part of business school was learning how to prioritize. There are many things you think you should be doing and it’s hard to determine what is most important. My recommendation for incoming students is to focus on your personal life first: you have to live a healthy life. Then rank your career, networking, and group work above all individual assignments. Achieving your career aspirations and building connections will make you happier long-term.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? My best advice is to do your homework before applying. Prepare a clear, concise, and honest story for why you want to pursue an MBA at the Carlson School. Also talk to current students and alumni to get a better understanding of what the program is like.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… my father would talk about his MBA. His achievement is something that I admire and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Business school has always been a goal of mine.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… taking time to build equity in the start-up community as a software engineer. New business creation is a passion of mine and something that I will always be a part of.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? I most admire Jeff Weiner because he treats employees like adults. In his biweekly all-hands meetings, he makes presentations and answers questions about company decisions. He does this despite Wall Street, who has scoffed at his decision to continue the practice even as the company has grown. Weiner says, “I’ve come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.” This transparency is one of many reasons he holds a 98-percent employee approval rating on Glassdoor. His leadership is something that garners a lot of respect.

What are your long-term professional goals? I want to manage a software organization: I aim to be CEO of a software company that has at least 200 employees. On the side, I’d like to be a mentor at an accelerator program and sit on the boards of early-stage companies.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would most like to thank my parents, who have always been supportive of my endeavors. Before she passed, my mother taught me to be a friend to everyone. This skill has served me well in building professional connections. My father continues to teach me about investments and financial responsibility. He has always invested in my success.

Fun fact about yourself: When I started playing soccer as a child, I would get so excited in anticipation of our games that I would wear my shin guards to bed the night before.

Favorite book: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Favorite movie: Remember the Titans

Favorite musical performer: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Favorite television show: “30 Rock”

Favorite vacation spot: Colorado

Hobbies? In my spare time, I’m a ski instructor and high school alpine ski coach. I also play soccer to stay physically active and listen to audiobooks and podcasts to stay mentally active.

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

“I met Steven during Full-Time MBA Orientation and was immediately impressed by his inquisitive nature and his commitment to the tech community. He followed up with a coaching appointment where I recommended for him to reach out to local tech entrepreneur contacts, who I thought would be extremely helpful in his quest to better understand the Minnesota tech community. He had already met every single one! I tell this story because I think it sums up Steven’s drive, network, and innate curiosity to constantly learn more (all while staying humble and appreciative). He came to our office for support but he had done so much work on his own beforehand.

“Steven’s work with the school is incredibly impressive. One of his most notable achievements is his leadership on the Tech Cities conference steering committee. The launch of this conference was a grassroots effort by some specific staff and faculty in various departments at the Carlson School to raise awareness of the tech growth in Minnesota. Steven was the only student we approached to be part of this staff/faculty committee during our initial year. In his first few months on campus he had shown creativity and industry expertise so we knew we wanted him on board. In true humble Midwest fashion, he won’t brag about this, but he came up with the Tech Cities name, he approached LinkedIn to travel to Minnesota and present on research about tech talent needs in the Twin Cities, and he led and mentored a group of student volunteers. Without his work, the conference would not have evolved into a sold-out, 400-plus-attendee conference joining large Fortune 500 companies, local start-ups, and policymakers dedicated to sustaining Minnesota tech innovation. This has not only been a big success for the community, but it has also helped brand the Carlson School as a place where tech talent learns leadership.

“Steven’s other notable achievements include his leadership of the Business Technology Club (launched a local tech trek, product development interview training, and volunteer program for student members to and mentor high school youth learning tech), being selected as a Sands Fellow and admissions fellow, and receiving Acara Challenge and MN Cup finalist awards.

“In my role I work with so many students who are smart and driven. Steven is smart and driven, too. He is also extremely committed to the Carlson School and Minnesota community and has launched events and programs that will be here long after he graduates.

“Finally, I can confidently say that Steven is kind. He is kind to all of his classmates and incredibly inclusive. This has helped bridge student communities and is one of the most valuable leadership skills. I can’t say enough about his impact on our school during his two years as a student. We are incredibly sad to see him go, but can’t wait to watch where his career takes him.”

Maggie Tomas
Director, Graduate Business Career Center
Carlson School of Management

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