2017 Best MBAs: Michael Jay Orr, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Michael Jay Orr

Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University, Dallas

 “A timid adolescent, buried in books, stretched by international endeavors, and transported to the frontlines!”

 Age: 30

 Hometown: Corona, California

 Fun fact about yourself: I am a Space Opera junkie and captivated by just about any book that begins with “Star.”

 Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Bachelor of Arts Business Economics, Wheaton College
  • Master of Arts Management and Leadership, Liberty University

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Captain, United States Army

I served for six years as a Logistics Officer in the United States Army. Over the course of my military career, I held a number of diverse positions ranging from a Platoon Leader of a Water Purification Unit to an Electronic Warfare Officer in Afghanistan to an Aide-de-Camp for a General Officer. In my final position, I led a four-person team responsible for planning and directing the activities of a port opening organization with 680 employees. The organization was designed to off load and load commercial vessels in regions without an established port or with a degraded port facility.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? The Hershey Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Where will you be working after graduation? The Hershey Company, Associate Brand Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: (Include school awards and honors)

 CLAY Student Leadership

Volunteer Instructor

CLAY (Caring, Loving All Youth) helps inner-city public schools and at-risk communities reduce the high school drop-out rate and increase the number of students attending college. The organization accomplishes this through a six-year leadership curriculum taught once a week by community volunteers during normal school hours. Lesson topics are value based and cover leadership, integrity, attitude and perseverance. I served as a volunteer instructor at a local high school.

Young Life – WyldLife

Volunteer Leader and Youth Mentor

WyldLife is a once-weekly afterschool program that provides students with a safe location to spend time with friends and receive mentorship. I served as a volunteer leader and youth mentor for a group of 32 middle school students.

Cox School of Business Student Advisory Board

Elected First Year Representative

The Student Advisory Board exists to serve graduate students within the Cox School of Business and represents the graduate student body to the school’s administration. The Student Advisory Board meets with school administrators bi-monthly to discuss student concerns and advise administrators on school initiatives. Student representatives on the board are elected by their peers.

Cox School of Business Honor Council


The Honor Council is responsible for educating students on the Honor Code and enforcing the intent of the Honor Code in the event of a violation. As a Co-Chair of the Honor Council, I trained new students on the details of the Honor Code and advised students with Honor Code questions as they occurred in the school year.

Cox Christian Fellowship

MBA Club President

The Cox Christian Fellowship exists to explore the intersection of faith and vocation, specifically how faith informs an individual’s vocation. The organization invites local business leaders to share their career stories and insights with students on campus. I was responsible for organizing and hosting 12 events throughout the school year.

Honors / Awards

  • Dean’s Circle
  • Cox Distinguished Business Leader
  • Cox Leadership Forum Member
  • Cox Merit Scholarship
  • Cox Marketing Academy

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of the greatest benefits of attending business school full-time is the ability to invest in the community. Over the course of the last two years, I had an opportunity to contribute towards a number of great local causes. I’m most proud of my time with CLAY Student Leadership. CLAY is an organization dedicated to transforming the lives of students and parents in at-risk communities through a six-year leadership curriculum. The goal of the organization is to reduce the high school drop-out rate and increase the number of students attending college within these communities. CLAY partners with public school districts and inner-city schools to provide volunteer instructors to teach a weekly leadership and life skills class.

Through this organization, I had the opportunity to teach a weekly class at a local public high school. Teaching high school students was one of the more challenging activities in business school as I was tasked with investing in disengaged students. At times, it felt like a constant tug-of-war between listening to the lesson and the latest smartphone game. If you want to perfect your public speaking and audience engagement abilities, commit to teaching a 45-minute lesson to 30 high school freshmen in an inner-city school. It was through this experience that one of my lessons from business school rang through, the idea that we are a storytelling people and brands that tell stories are the most impactful. I was able to leverage this insight by sharing stories from my life that relate to the weekly lesson. That helped me to win the battle of tug-of-war over time.

I’m proud of my time with CLAY because it gave me an opportunity to practice perseverance. The first month teaching the class was rough. I was unable to gain traction and connect with the students. It was only after consistently showing up, week-after-week, that I was able to build trust with the students and speak truth into their lives. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have impacted the next generation of leaders.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The United States Army provided me with a number of exceptional leadership experiences in events of international significance. My most memorable achievement during my military service was my successful deployment to Haiti in 2010. A significant earthquake had rattled Haiti and its government was unable to provide basic emergency services. A humanitarian crisis developed and the United States Army was tasked with providing humanitarian relief to prevent further suffering.

During this crisis, I led a water purification unit with 14 employees responsible for producing and distributing drinkable water to Joint Task Force – Haiti. We were part of the first responders from the United States. My initial mission was to provide water solely to military personnel in Port-au-Prince. However, after my initial assessment of the local community, I discovered the Haitians in Port-au-Prince had a pressing need for drinkable water as well. I recognized my water detachment had excess capacity and I decided to distribute water to local Haitians twice a day. At the end of the operation, my water detachment produced, stored and distributed over 1 million gallons of potable water for both the Joint Task Force and the people of Port-au-Prince.

My decision to distribute water to local civilians was an impromptu decision with immense implications. The decision reduced the risk of cholera in the local area, established good will with the people of Haiti and generated positive publicity for the United States Army. The outcome of the deployment was a defining achievement for me and sparked my desire to build a career centered on serving others.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? David Lei was my favorite professor. David has a wealth of knowledge and a genuine passion for sharing his knowledge with students. He lectures with a level of energy that conveys to his students that each lecture is the most important event on his calendar. He is constantly illustrating the ideas of his class through relatable examples. Students leave each lecture feeling they’ve learned memorable principles they’ll be able to apply in a future business context.

Why did you choose this business school? The class size of the Cox School of Business was a driving factor in my selection process. We all have an innate desire to know people and to be known by people. It’s the Cheers affect, the idea that people desire a community, “where everybody knows your name.” I did not want to be known as 2017 MBA Candidate Number 638. The smaller class size of the Cox program means I know every single one of my classmates and when I run into a professor off-campus, my professor recalls my name. The idea of bidding for courses is foreign and I’ve always been able to take the courses I’m interested in. In the realm of education, sometimes less is more.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The most enjoyable part of business school is friendship and community. In my six years as an Army Officer, prior to business school, I underwent six work-related moves and two international deployments. The longest period of time I spent in one location was the eleven months I spent in Afghanistan. This frequent churn made creating relationships difficult and left me unrooted without deep friendships. I have discovered that the real value of business school is the friendships that are formed. At Cox, I have found lifetime friends with whom I have rejoiced in success and shared in disappointment. We’ve bonded over early morning hours cramming for exams, Tuesday afternoons throwing a Frisbee, and the constant search for the perfect spot to hammock on campus.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? I was most surprised by the level of personal growth I’ve experienced over the last two years. I arrived at business school expecting to learn financial equations and strategic frameworks. I did not expect to develop a deeper sense of self. Prior to business school, I lived my life attempting to fit into a mold I was never meant to fit. I believed that success was a mathematical equation that needed to be followed precisely. Instead, I discovered there is no set path to life, everyone creates their own unique trail. This realization gave me the freedom to investigate new interests and uncover hidden talents. For example, creativity is not an encouraged value in the military. Consequently, I never considered myself a creative person. However, I’ve found I gravitate to projects and opportunities that allow me to express creativity.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One aspect of business school is the idea that each school maintains a specific concentration of excellence. For instance, Indiana Kelley is considered to have a strong marketing program and Carnegie Mellon is known for its analytical approach. There are some who think SMU Cox is primarily a finance program with a specialty in energy finance. It’s certainly a logical opinion as the school hosts the McGuire Energy Institute and is located in the heart of Texas. Indeed, the majority of students arrive with the goal of studying finance and the perception that the primary reason you attend SMU Cox is to study finance. There is a thought that students studying a concentration outside of the school’s known concentration of excellence are somehow disadvantaged. I was one of those students, until I was not. I quickly discovered my passion was not for finance and my talents favored marketing.

If you are a student who buys into this idea that students at SMU Cox in a field outside of finance are somehow disadvantaged, the prospect of falling out of love with finance is problematic. There is a grain of truth in the myth that students outside a school’s known concentration are somewhat disadvantaged. The disadvantage does not stem from the quality of education or the value of the degree. Rather it’s a manifestation of the recruiting process. Companies develop favored “watering holes,” institutions they call on to recruit specific functional requirements. This functional bias forces candidates from outside concentrations to work harder in the recruitment process than candidates in the school’s core concentration. However, I found there is life outside of a school’s primary strength and would argue the quality of my marketing education equals that of my peers at other institutions. Following the herd is not the only way to achieve success; often times success is earned by following your passion, even when that passion leads you away from the herd.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school is that I didn’t participate in the study abroad program or take full advantage of the school’s short-term international study trips. I have always been fascinated with the idea of studying in a foreign culture and experiencing a foreign university system. These are significant learning opportunities that rarely present themselves twice. Perhaps in the future I will have the opportunity to work in a foreign culture and further my international experience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are a number of great reasons to admire my SMU Cox FTMBA classmates Sherrie Johnson. She is quite possibly the most pleasant and gracious person in the program. However, I’m most impressed with her passion for pursing her dreams. Sherrie had the courage to walk away from a full-time employment offer from a prestigious company because it did not align with her dreams for the future. She is an entrepreneur at heart and has a passion for starting new businesses. Rather than seek the safety of a corporate career, Sherrie has courageously chosen to step into the unknown and start her own business.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I knew I wanted to go to business school when I saw more opportunities in the business world to individuate and use my developed leadership skills I gained from the military.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… leveraging my military experience and top secret security clearance to break into public sector consulting.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ambition is to grow into a business leader who fosters a healthy workplace environment that allows employees to fully develop their talents and provide products that enable communities to flourish. This goal has led me to join the legacy of Milton Hershey and The Hershey Company. Milton embodied this career philosophy through the mission and culture he instilled in his company, a mission and culture that continues to exist today. I’m unsure about the direction my future path will take. However, wherever I am, I want to enable my community and my teammates to flourish.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? There are many different influences in our lives that shape and mold our character. One of the most important influences in my life is my mom. She modeled perseverance and a commitment to accomplishing her goals in the face of adversity. In the mid-1980s, she was one of two women enrolled in Becton Dickenson’s corporate education program. Through the program, the company paid for her to earn her MBA part-time. It’s difficult enough to manage a career and pursue a graduate degree. It takes perseverance to manage a career, pursue a graduate degree and give birth to a child. Throughout my life, my mom repeatedly modeled perseverance and encouraged me to pursue my dreams in the face of adversity. Her example and encouragement inspires me to dream.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as a teammate who was always willing to listen and had a genuine concern for people.

Favorite book: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Favorite movie or television show: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with James Stewart

Favorite musical performer: U2

Favorite vacation spot: The beach, any beach.

Hobbies: Fly Fishing, Chess, Cooking

What made Michael such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“It is not a stretch to say that Michael Orr is involved in every facet of graduate student life here at the Cox School of Business. A former captain in the U.S. Army who served tours in Haiti after its devastating earthquake and also in Afghanistan, Michael is greatly respected by his peers for his quiet leadership, excellent judgment and overall equanimity among his classmates. He is a co-chair of the school’s graduate honor council, president of the Cox Christian Fellowship and served as a first year representative for the Cox School’s Student Advisory Board.

He also gives back to the community by teaching a weekly class to thirty high school freshman as part of an organization dedicated to helping kids in at-risk communities stay in school and as a volunteer youth mentor for an after school program that provides students a safe location to spend time and learn. While the rigors of business school often turn students’ focus inward toward more self-awareness and skills improvement, Michael has used his business school experience as an opportunity to branch out into the community and feels strongly that more business school outreach is possible.

Michael will be joining the Hershey Company in brand management after graduation and looks forward to making a difference wherever he settles. SMU Cox is proud to nominate Michael Orr as one of Poets & Quants Top 100 Full-Time MBA Graduates for 2017.”

Michael Caplan

Assistant Dean, Student Services for Graduate Programs

SMU Cox School of Business




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