2017 MBAs To Watch: Launa Wood, University of Texas (McCombs)

Launa Wood

The University of Texas – McCombs School of Business

“A bird given the freedom to fly outside the cage that she had only imagined.”

Age: 31

Hometown: Jackson, Tennessee

Dallas, Texas, for five years before enrolling at McCombs

Fun fact about yourself: I am the oldest of five, and every other sibling will graduate in May. Number One (me) will graduate from business school, Number Two will graduate with her undergraduate degree from Baylor University, and Number Five will graduate from high school all within the same week in May – not to mention that week is also the same week as Mother’s Day and my mother’s birthday. Should be a really fun week for my mom.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Murray State University, BA in Secondary English Education

The Pennsylvania State University, MA in Human Resources and Employee Relations

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

  • StoneGate Senior Living as a Regional Human Resources Consultant
  • Metro-Nashville Public Schools as a ninth grade English teacher
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a ninth grade English teacher

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a People and Organization Management Consultant.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be returning to PwC Dallas office as a People and Organization Management Consultant.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • 2016 Consortium Co-Liaison for McCombs Chapter
  • Preview Weekend Co-Chair for Incoming Class of 2017
  • Graduate Business Council Social Co-Chair
  • Board Fellows Member for Kids in a New Groove Austin

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Being a part of McCombs Consortium chapter undoubtedly has been the most meaningful and influential contribution that I have been privileged to engage in within the program. The opportunity to collaborate with program office, the admissions committee, and other students who have passion for the Consortium community at McCombs (and a desire for the chapter to expand through a meaningful and definitive approach) was unmatched when compared to any other experience I have had during my time in the program.

Recognizing the need for more diversity and being able to coordinate meetings and brainstorming sessions with alumni, staff, and students who are in positions to create a greater impact provided the platform to create shifts in the methods used to appeal to and ultimately recruit underrepresented minority talent. Further, being the point person for prospective underrepresented minority students at McCombs provided the opportunity to showcase the community that we continue to build at McCombs. Through concentrated and consequential approaches and inclusion, McCombs has continued to demonstrate its support and encouragement of minority involvement and influence within the program itself. As Consortium Co-Liaison for the McCombs chapter, I was able to be directly involved and observe the advancements and progress that was made during the admissions process.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a teacher, I considered all of my students my “babies.” Although they were fourteen and fifteen years old when I taught them, many of my proudest moments are associated with their successes as individuals. My proudest moment in my professional career would be a 100% student pass rate on the end-of-course state exam while teaching in Tennessee. Many of my students entered my class not being able to read on a ninth-grade competency level. Some were even unable to test on a third-grade reading level. However, throughout the semester, I observed what I believed to be a dedication to themselves and a commitment to me to position themselves to be deemed proficient by the state. I believe that the pass rate was a direct effect of the formation of meaningful relationships between my students and me, and the responsibility that each of us felt. As a teacher, I was accountable to guide them. As students, they did not want to disappoint either me or themselves. I held such high expectations for them based on what I knew they were capable of achieving. In the end, they held themselves to that standard throughout the academic year, and the end-of-course exam pass rate only validated that collectively they exceeded that measure.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Asking me to choose my favorite MBA professor is like asking me to choose my favorite child (if I had any). The selection is impossible, and even if I could, somewhat cruel. However, each of my favorite professors has exhibited similar characteristics that have drawn me to them as a student, the most evident of which are sincere interest in their students in every obvious aspect – personally, professionally, and academically. I have been appreciatively overwhelmed at the enthusiasm my professors have had in my life and my trajectory, both career and otherwise. Because McCombs is a relatively small program, the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with professors is possible, and my favorite professors have mentored and supported me throughout the MBA process and program. I am confident that even as an alum, I will continue to maintain those relationships. That’s especially true because I know that they will want to know about my progress — and I will desire to share those developments with them because they will have ultimately indirectly influenced my growth and realizations of my ambitions.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite MBA course has been Global Management with Professor Doggett. This is due to Doggett’s ambitious teaching style and exhaustive expectations of his students coupled with the ability to integrate the international students’ perspectives of business, based on the curriculum and in-class discussions. Further, the three hour, once per week format of the class allowed us to build a community in the class among the professor and the students. Subsequently, this provided a safer platform for students to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and gain greater understanding in a more worldly context than any other class of which I have been a part. I left the class with a greater appreciation of both international business and global cultures as well as first-hand knowledge of world conflicts and challenges outside of the normalized business context.

Why did you choose this business school? McCombs’ culture is centered around community and the expectation of the community to be collaborative, friendly, and student-centered. As I was choosing which program I would ultimately enroll, I found a continual and consistent pattern among the students of assistance, friendliness, and general pride for the program. Further, I enjoyed the symbiotic relationship that Austin and McCombs share, especially within the start-up, entrepreneurial, and tech industries. As McCombs continues its shift into being the top entrepreneurial program in the country, I was excited about exploring my own company ideas, along with the opportunity to work with numerous professors who were both accessible and excited about assisting me with my own business as I progressed through the program.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? It was the opportunity to truly “break” from everything you know and think you know to explore life within a somewhat insulated bubble. My testimony with this program and with business school in general is that I have genuinely learned to “be comfortable being uncomfortable.” I have broken from what I believed my previous career path was going to be; developed genuine friendships with people I would have otherwise never even interacted with to form relationships; and been able to learn about ideas and perspectives that I have never known would even be of interest. My entire perspective widened because I was able to depart from what I knew to be comfortable in order to learn to be comfortable with the unknown, the unfamiliar, and the unexplored. Leaving the comfort zone of what was easy and expected allowed me to stretch myself to newer, greater dimensions, which provided growth that I would have never experienced had I remained static in what had become my stagnant professional and personal lives.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? How much fun it was after the core! The core was extremely difficult, especially because I had never taken a serious quantitative class in my other degree programs. After surviving the first semester, I was able to enroll in courses that were of interest to me personally and professionally and explore areas of business that had previously been obscure in my own understanding. Further, I was able to really interact more with my classmates. Although I realized what an amazing group of classmates I had during the core, somehow hanging out with them at tailgates and not simultaneously worrying about statistics homework made those types of experiences that much better.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? As cliché as it sounds, I tell all prospective students to be their genuine and sincere selves during both the application process and the subsequent interview process. McCombs values idiosyncrasies in all areas – both professional and personal – and each student truly has to determine if McCombs is a fit for him or her. That is no different than McCombs having to determine if the prospective candidate is going to fit in the extraordinary culture that the program has developed over the past several decades. Prospective students should talk to current students, attend a class, go to a tailgate, meet with alumni in their current cities. In the process, they will truly get a pulse of whether the students of McCombs are the type of people you could be friends with and whether McCombs is going to be a place that you want to spend the next two years. If so, apply and don’t conform to what you think McCombs wants to see. Instead, be your most authentic self throughout the process, and you will land in the program that is best for your personality and your career goals.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Many prospective students have a stereotypical view of the state of Texas, and recruiting becomes difficult when prospective students are unable to see past the cowboy boots and The Lone Star. Although the southwestern culture is a significant piece of our fabric at Texas, the city Austin sometimes doesn’t seem as though it would fit into the clichéd view of a Texas city. From start-ups to renowned music festivals to paddle-boarding in November, “The Keep Austin Weird” ideology permeates through Austin, making it one of the most dynamic, robust cities in the country. Because of its relationship with McCombs, the program is able to positively affect change in Austin and vice versa.

In terms of business, tech giants like Google and Amazon have nestled themselves in the Austin hills, and start-ups and incubators are dotted throughout the city, which is a testament to the ecosystem that Austin and the McCombs community have been able to create. I would encourage any prospective student to visit the campus and stay for the weekend and truly get a first-hand perspective of how much Austin and McCombs are not the city or program, respectively, that people might believe. Instead, both are incredible environments to spend two years – or, if you fall in love with the city like several of my classmates, longer!

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret – and the first piece of advice I give to any prospective student considering business school – is not adequately preparing for the quantitative classes, especially as a “poet” MBA applicant. Although I thought I was strong in my Excel skills, I realized within the first week of business school that my adeptness was relative to my coworkers; I thought I was an Excel Ninja when, in fact, I was an Excel Karate Kid. And not the Karate Kid who wins the tournaments – the Karate Kid who is really, really bad at karate during the first twenty minutes of the movie. Thus, had I to prepare over, I would enroll in community college courses in accounting, finance, statistics, and Excel, simply to have a base knowledge prior to entering the core with engineers, CPAs, CFAs, and other classmates who used the core as a review, and not as a foundational class.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Ginger Lackey, one of my Cohort Two classmates. Ginger is decisively the antithesis of who and what one would expect as a business school student. Somehow, she has managed to be successful in every area of the program – socially, academically, and professionally – all while simultaneously raising two beautiful, well-adjusted daughters, and coming from an exceptionally non-traditional background as a theater manager.

As one of her cohort classmates, I have been able to witness and recognize how she has gracefully managed her duties and responsibilities as a student, a wife, and a mother, and she has unconditionally excelled in every expectation. During a conversation with her during our first year, she mentioned how amazing it would be when, after she graduated and her daughters had grown a bit more, how they would be able to realize the sacrifice and fortitude she demonstrated, and surely, that foresight will be decisively realized.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when… my life started to become entirely too predictable, and I no longer liked where I knew my life trajectory was likely to place me.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… studying for the GMAT because what I was doing professionally most likely still would neither be as challenging nor as rewarding as I would have needed to remain engaged or excited.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would develop an in-house team of students from disparate backgrounds (e.g. LGBTQ, Hispanics, African-Americans, etc.) who only focused on diversity recruiting and how to correlate each of the ideas and expectations of those groups for a greater yield of both applicants and committed admissions.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to become partner at PwC in its People and Organization practice. Human capital consulting consolidates and incorporates each of my professional degrees and functions: Education, human resources, and business. I absolutely enjoyed my internship this summer at PwC, both in the competency of human capital consulting as well as the PwC organization’s culture and idiosyncratic approach to employee success and client satisfaction. Thus, in a perfect world and in this moment, I would find myself as partner in the next seven to ten years.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? When I moved to Dallas, I was blessed to develop friendships with multiple successful, professional women. I was exposed to lifestyles and ambition realizations that I had not before experienced on that level with other friendships that I had had prior to that moment. Being able to be motivated and inspired by women who were conclusive “lady bosses” emboldened me to make decisions that would allow me similar experiences and professional fulfillment.

I also want to thank many others who were instrumental in my decision to change my life by enrolling in business school: My friends who have earned their MBAs and other post-graduate degrees; my friends who have resigned from their careers to become entrepreneurs; and my friends who have simply demonstrated that life has more to offer when you exert more effort to realize the rewards.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? The girl who was always smiling and friendly, and was genuinely glad to speak to you to know you better.

Favorite book: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. My mother would read it to us regularly. As I’ve gotten older, I am able to better understand how “as long as I’m living, [her] baby [I’ll] be,” and I’m grateful for her commitment to me as a mother, even as I age.

Favorite movie or television show: The Color Purple. I can recite the entire movie, beginning to end.

Favorite musical performer: Beyoncé. (Who else?!)

Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere with sand, sun, and salty water and nothing to do all day but lie on the beach. Lately, I have become partial to Punta Cana; it’s become a paradise for me.

Hobbies? Baking is my favorite hobby, simply because it’s not expensive if I botch a batch of whatever it is I’m making. Plus, people love eating the finished product – which is great for classmates who happen to be in Carpenter Study Lounge when I am offloading cakes and cookies.

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

“Launa Wood leads by example. Her charismatic personality is matched by her commitment and compassion for her community. Launa began building a community amongst her peers before she set foot on campus. She has taken many formal and informal roles to be a mentor and champion at the university. Launa’s roles as co-lead for our McCombs Consortium Chapter and co-chair for Preview Weekend helped welcome our incoming students to the McCombs community. As the Graduate Business social co-chair, Launa has planned a collection of program-wide events that embody the McCombs culture, including campus traditions like McCombs Got Talent, that bring the whole community together and showcase the varied talents and cultures that make up the class.

Launa has fostered an inclusive community by being an advocate for campus conversations, engaging diverse perspectives in active dialog and creating peer programs for incoming Consortium students. With a sincere commitment to her studies and leadership roles on campus, Launa is well respected by her classmates. She has always found the time to connect one-on-one with classmates who need a friend during times of stress and difficulty. All of this activity is underscored by Launa’s genuine nature and selfless dedication to her peers.

Fellow classmate Michael Sarraille, notably nominated for this same honor, named Launa as his most admired classmate: “I think everyone in the Class of 2017 would agree Launa goes above and beyond in every pursuit she undertakes. She takes ‘due diligence’ to a whole other level. The creativity and thoroughness of all her MBA projects have become the gold standard for students to replicate. I consider Launa a dear friend, and I am excited to watch her excel in her future endeavors.”

Some people foster community, some build community, Launa creates it.”

Tina Mabley
Assistant Dean

 

DON’T MISS: MBAS TO WATCH: THE STORIES OF 100 EXTRAORDINARY GRADUATES FROM THE CLASS OF 2017