2018 Best MBAs: Chris Grantham, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Chris Grantham

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

Adventure-loving father, proud nerd, and former U.S. diplomat.”

Age: 34

Hometown: Pullman, Washington

Fun fact about yourself: I love to learn new things. Outside of school, I focus this energy as a serial hobbyist. I have immersed myself in everything from cooking to scuba diving to getting my pilot’s license to a few years as a hobby farmer. I’m glad to be going into a career where every day brings a new challenge.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Whitman College; Bachelor of Arts, Sociology

Where did you work before enrolling in business school I was a U.S. diplomat for nine years, serving in the Middle East and Washington, D.C. After that, I was chief of staff for information technology at the University of Minnesota.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Boston Consulting Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Where will you be working after graduation? Boston Consulting Group, Washington D.C., Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Managing Partner, Graduate Volunteer Consultants – 100 percent student-run pro bono consultancy; Sands Fellowship — social entrepreneurship grant

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was proud to join a case team that won a national competition sponsored by Pfizer. The challenge was to find ways to improve access to vaccinations in underserved populations. My class has some terrific people with exceptionally strong healthcare backgrounds. Due to the expertise on our team, we didn’t just beat out a long list of highly ranked schools, but I think we were able to provide Pfizer with actionable ideas for improving lives.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a U.S. diplomat, I was part of the team that launched the negotiations that ultimately led to a comprehensive international agreement to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I don’t want to pick favorites — what if they read this? I still have one semester left! Carlson is known for its exceptional professors. Helen Moser (“H-Mo” as she is universally known here) deserves special recognition for taking a sociologist like me and turning him into someone competent at corporate finance.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Carlson because it was strong in three key areas. First, I wanted a hands-on experience where, after a decade in public service, I could understand what a career in business would be like. Carlson’s experiential learning via the Enterprise programs provides exposure to a broad range of firms and industries. Second, I liked that Carlson made global study a cornerstone of the program. I wanted to surround myself with people curious about the broader impact of their future decisions as leaders. Finally, I knew this was a huge life transition and I wanted to be around a group of fun, smart, talented people looking to make equally big changes in their paths. With so many Fortune 500 headquarters in town, I have been able to learn a lot from my classmates.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Make sure to take the time to craft an application that is authentic to who you are. Much more than any preconceived notion of what profile or test scores you need, my sense is that the admissions committee wants to get to know you and understand what excites you about business.

 What is the biggest myth about your school? People say that the University’s mascot, Goldy Gopher, is not really modeled after a gopher but more closely resembles a ground squirrel. I’ve asked Goldy about this and can never get a straight answer—he just smiles his goofy, big-toothed grin and walks away.

What was your biggest regret in business school? There are so many different opportunities here through classes, clubs, career networking, and the alumni that it’s impossible to explore everything you’d like to.

 Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have a ton of respect for my classmates and fellow parents, Katie and Colin Robertson. Poets & Quants did a great profile of them as they tag team the MBA journey while raising three angelic little boys. Being decorated combat veterans has given them an upper hand on both fronts, but even when things have been challenging their good humor and level-headed perspective has made our class better.

 Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I came around to business rather late in life, and there’s no question I couldn’t have done this without the encouragement and support of family. My wife knows what makes me tick and saw early in my consideration of business school how much I loved learning and the doors it could open. I was also lucky to have a few MBAs in the family who let me pepper them with questions about their work and industries.

 If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…back in the Middle East, representing the United States at one of our embassies or consulates around the region.

 If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? It’s tempting to ask for some of the optional, heavily quantitative classes to be made mandatory because if you read business journals, it seems like in 10 years every MBA will need to be a data scientist too. But then I am reminded of the wise words of Toby Nord, Carlson Ventures Enterprise director, who always challenges us to think about what higher-level skills and leadership qualities we want to learn in his class. He notes that what will really make us exceptional leaders “probably ain’t more math.”

 What are the top two items on your bucket list? Travel and more travel. There is nothing that makes my family happier than going on a trip. And the more we travel, the more we want to. There is always someplace new to go, something new to learn, something you’d want to see.

 In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?As someone who made the most of the unique opportunity that a full-time MBA program offers and invested heavily in helping classmates do the same.

What is your favorite movie about business? Trading Places is a favorite because it exercises both the business and sociological sides of my brain.

What would your theme song be? “How Far I’ll Go from Moana.” I have little kids, so it’s stuck in my head, and it captures my excitement at starting a new phase of my career.

Favorite vacation spot: Istanbul. I could wander around in the markets and side streets for days and never get bored.

Hobbies? My flying took a bit of a hiatus during business school, but I’d love to get back in the air after graduation. It’s a great mix of gadgetry, technical challenges, and pure relaxation.

What made Chris such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

Chris Grantham single-handedly led a group of 30 MBA students to deliver a phenomenally successful project result for a multinational corporation in China. As a former U.S. diplomat, he has a unique ability to bring out the best in his peers, including in a cross-cultural environment under intense time pressure. Chris’ leadership of the class allowed me, as faculty, to focus on elevating students’ critical thinking, resulting in an incredibly impactful, fact-based recommendation for the client.

In China, classmates elected Chris as class leader, recognizing his strength in the role. Chris brought together 20 Carlson School of Management students and 10 Chinese students from our partner university using exceptional communication and peer-mentoring skills. He identified the goals of our client project, created a plan to achieve these goals, vetted the plan with faculty and the client, and secured buy-in and active follow-through from all of his peers. Chris’ calm demeanor, sense of humor, intellectual curiosity and capacity, and genuine bonhomie for his classmates brought the cohort of students to an extraordinary result. I am certain these traits will serve him well at BCG.

Kate Reigel
Instructor, Professional Director of MS in Supply Chain Management Program

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018