2017 MBAs To Watch: Michael Foster, Vanderbilt (Owen)

Michael Foster

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“A former commercial banker turned consultant with a love of country and bluegrass music.”

Age: 29

Hometown: Baltimore, MD

Fun fact about yourself: I play guitar and have toured with professional songwriters while living in Nashville.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Virginia (2009) – Double BA in Economics and English

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? TowneBank (Hampton Roads, VA) – Commercial Portfolio Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? The Boston Consulting Group – Dallas, TX

Where will you be working after graduation? The Boston Consulting Group – Dallas, TX – Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Ingram Scholar – full tuition merit-based scholarship

Consulting Club Development Coordinator

Owen Honor Council Board Member

Guitarist, Vocalist, and Band Leader for Owen’s MBA Band, “Willingness to Play”

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? This year, I have been able to help many students through the consulting interview process in my role as the Development Coordinator for the Consulting Club. In this capacity, I developed a series of case prep sessions for the club at large and worked individually with multiple students going through the interview process. It’s been especially fulfilling to see these students get offers from top companies, and I’m proud to have helped grow Owen’s profile with many elite consulting firms this year.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my year-long role on a small team that revamped the loan-loss reserve process at TowneBank. Because the bank had outgrown its initial manual review system, we started from square one and built an entirely new department responsible for independently reviewing loans, assessing risk, and determining adequate reserve levels. The new system was received positively by internal employees and external auditors, and it represented a significant step forward as the bank grew beyond the Hampton Roads region.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I’ve particularly enjoyed learning from Professor Brian McCann, head of the Strategy department at Owen. Through my involvement with the Consulting Club, I’ve gotten to work closely with Professor McCann and have been impressed by his critical thinking and insight into complex business issues. More than that, he truly cares about students and the school and has been a valuable resource for students who are interested in consulting. I’ve come to regard him as both a mentor and a friend, and I look forward to keeping up with him after graduation.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? I most enjoyed Owen’s course in Corporate Strategy, which dealt with broader questions of how businesses should compete to exploit their core resources and capabilities. In terms of key insights, the course emphasized that businesses should be wary of integration, diversification, and a single-minded pursuit of growth, as these often lead firms into arenas where they cannot compete effectively. To critically assess these acquisition or market entry decisions, firms should have a clear focus on their key resources and a plan for how those resources will enable them to compete and outperform in a new market.

Why did you choose this business school? I was particularly impressed with the community at Vanderbilt, and I felt that, instead of competing with each other, everyone here supported and rooted for their fellow students. There were a few second-year students last year who went above-and-beyond to help me, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of their help. I think that speaks to the atmosphere here that attracted me to the school.

Beyond that, I was interested in Nashville as a city because it would give me the opportunity to play and sing in town when I had free time. I’ve been able to play at the honky-tonks downtown a few times and tour with songwriters over school breaks — really great experiences that I wouldn’t have gotten at other schools.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I’ve developed life-long friendships here that I really value and that have truly enriched my personal and professional life. Through business school, I’ve gotten to know so many driven and talented people who have provided invaluable insight and perspective on various business issues and personal challenges. I’ve most enjoyed getting to learn from these people in my time here, and I know that I will continue to rely on them for counsel as my career moves forward.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? At Owen, I’ve been most surprised by the wide array of career paths that my classmates have chosen to pursue, be it starting their own companies, working in small startups, managing large hospitals, or becoming investment bankers. I was focused on a few career tracks coming into school, and I was shocked to find how many different opportunities an MBA can afford you. I ended up considering a whole host of different options, and I always recommend that new students consider a number of possibilities in the recruiting process before choosing what’s right for them.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be yourself and trust the process. Try to focus less on being exactly what Vanderbilt is looking for and more on whether Owen fits with your personality and career goals. Once that’s decided, trust that the admissions officers will be smart enough to see that you’d be a good fit for the school. The last thing you want to do is “fake” your way into a program that doesn’t align with who you really are.

What is the biggest myth about your school? For me, the biggest myth about Owen is that it’s a preppy, “popped-collar” type of program, which I’ve found to be the furthest thing from the truth. I think it gets that image because of Vanderbilt being a classic southern school, but people here are incredibly down-to-earth and approachable. Owen really prides itself on staying results-oriented and keeping egos out of the equation.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I would have liked to engage more with the local community in Nashville and gotten more involved with non-profits that help disadvantaged school children and the homeless. I’m interested in education reform, particularly in low-income communities, and was involved with big brother programs before business school. I took these two years to really focus on school and recruiting; unfortunately, community work had to take a back seat with the time constraints. If I had it to do over again, I would’ve prioritized this kind of work from the beginning of my business school career.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Michael Mikita, a classmate of mine who will be working at Walmart after graduation. Mike is incredibly smart and ambitious, but I’m always most impressed with the way he loves his wife and puts his family first. He exemplifies much of what I aspire to be; he’s been able to find a great balance in his life and always has a firm sense of what really matters.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was no longer challenged to grow in my former job.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…trying to make it as an artist, songwriter, or side musician.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? If I could, I would require MBA candidates to engage with local businesses as a part of their coursework in their first year. Some of my most valuable MBA experiences have been interactions with industry professionals, both inside and outside the Nashville community, and I feel that real-world experience during an MBA program provides great context to the traditional coursework. I could clearly see the value of real-world experience when second years returned from their internships, as they had a new grasp of how these concepts actually come into practice in the business community. I think that giving students this experience sooner in their MBA career would enhance the traditional class structure and also help build bridges between business schools and local businesses.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I’m aiming to become a partner at BCG, as I really admired the partners I got to work and interact with during my internship this summer. They are all incredibly smart people doing interesting work on the largest problems facing major businesses today. Many have developed innovative analytical tools that have generated significant value for clients. I would love the opportunity to do that kind of work and have that level of impact.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would most want to thank my parents, as they’ve been the biggest influence on my life and career to date. When I was considering applying to business school, they encouraged and supported me regardless of which decision I made, and they continued to provide valuable advice as I went through the recruiting process. Any success I’ve had is due in large part to their unwavering love, and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without their guidance and support.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like to be remembered as a hard-working and insightful student who continually challenged himself and others to become the best versions of themselves.

Favorite book: The Sound and the Fury – Faulkner

Favorite movie or television show: The Shawshank Redemption

Favorite musical performer: Sturgill Simpson

Favorite vacation spot: Walt Disney World

Hobbies? Playing guitar and piano, singing, reading, watching classic movies, following Liverpool Football Club

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

“Mike is one of those unique students who makes very meaningful contributions both inside and outside the classroom.  I first got to know Mike via my role as the faculty adviser to the Owen Strategy and Consulting Club.  One of the primary roles of the club is to help prepare students for case interviewing, and this is very much a student-led activity.  Mike’s dedication to this effort over the past year as the Development Coordinator for the club has been simply outstanding.  I haven’t calculated the total amount of time he has put into this, but I am confident that it has been a huge investment and all made on a totally voluntary basis.  He developed and delivered a number of group training sessions (held on Sunday nights!) and has conducted countless individual practice interviews with classmat9es. His work here has been an amazing service to his classmates, and it has paid off with a number of great placements.

Despite his questionable taste in music (Kaleo?) and European football clubs (Liverpool – YNWA!), Mike is one of the standout students in his class. I know others at Owen really respect Mike’s work as well. Here’s one example – in my second-year elective class that all strategy concentrators take (Corporate Strategy), each student completes an evaluation asking for ratings of how their peers’ participation contributed to their learning in the class. Mike’s name was at the top of the list of the 142 students who took my class this year. I also saw this respect when I recently solicited recommendations from several faculty, staff members, and students for a case competition team. With such a relatively diverse group of recommenders, it wasn’t surprising to see quite a bit of variety across the lists; however, there was one name that consistently appeared across all the lists: Mike Foster.

Mike is the type of student who leaves a lasting impression at the school and with his fellow students. We are fortunate to have had him at Owen for two years, and I look forward to watching his future successes!”

Brian McCann

Associate Professor of Strategic Management



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