The MBA Summit: Vetting Top MBA Programs

 

Byrne: Ramu, how about you?

Annamalai: I think business schools in general are thinking about how they can integrate new components into their curriculum, outside of just pure finance, pure accounting. You can get that online. You can go to Udemy, Coursera. How do you actually integrate that into te classroom experience? At Ross, every class has some type of action-based learning component that I think is really important.

Part of that is knowing myself. I learn best by doing. I think a lot of us do. One of the classes I took, Data Insights & Analytics, was taught by a professor who has his own consulting company. He brings in outside casework and formats that into a classroom setting. He gives us actual data that he’s used, very hairy data sets. He wants us to present the recommendation with insights every week. These are actual cases that he’s looked at so he has real recommendations. The professor pushed us to not just provide accurate insights, but also to be selling the next project. Think about what you are going to deliver to get that next project out to them.

Byrne: It’s often said that the MBA experience is transformative, that it truly changes not only your outlook on business, but even who you are and who you want to become. Nate, how has the MBA changed you?

Micon: I think it has changed the way I lead and the way that I interact with people. One is, the core lasts a year and you are with the same people, the same cohort. The same small learning team for an entire year. You kick off that year in a small week long course called Managing Groups and Teams, where you go through a lot of trials with this group of eight people that you work with throughout the entire year.

Spending an entire year with a group of eight people really teaches you a lot about yoursel, how to lead and when you should lead. You learn different ways for people to effectively communicate with teams. And because those experiences are within one cohort, it’s really a safe space to ask questions to understand how different people approach problems. You develop really deep relationships with people. Rather than treating every single project as a transaction, you’re trying to really get to know your teammates and network with them. It helps you understand their motivations, how they think, and how they approach problems, which not only makes you a better teammate, it can also push and inspire you to lead in different ways.

Another thing that is really nice about SOM and the way their curriculum is set up is that because it’s so integrated with Yale University, there are a lot of not only joint degree students but a lot of people who aren’t even in business school in all of your classes. I think being around people who don’t have the exact same outlook on life or the same exact thought process forces you to not only better explain yourself but makes you open to different ways of approaching a problem.

A lot of the ways that I’ve changed isn’t necessarily that I know corporate finance or accounting or marketing better, it’s that I can think about problems more holistically. I can work with people across a range of backgrounds. I push myself to communicate with people in ways that I wouldn’t have communicated before. I’ve taken on problems and I’ve taken classes that I never would have taken before. I’ve been encouraged by people. The experience has broadened my horizons, fundamentally made me more introspective and helped me to redefine what leadership looks like.  All those non-quantifiable, non-hard skills are really what I’ve taken out of the MBA program. I think it’s nice because, again, you can go online and take a Coursera course on accounting, but getting those soft skills are really important, especially as you continue to progress in your career. I noticed the bifurcation of people when I was at my firm before school. People who had MBAs were more likely to have those soft skills and some of them were effective leaders and very good at motivating and very good at helping you progress and develop and the others weren’t.

Byrne: Tam, you’re midway through your transformative experience. Do you feel changed in any way?

Emerson: I definitely feel changed. One thing that’s also important to convey is that no one discusses how hard it’s going to be. No one talked about how emotionally, physically, mentally difficult the experience will be. I think everybody wants to put a really nice ribbon on an MBA and say it was the best two years of their life. I think I will walk out having said that, undoubtedly, but I don’t think anyone changes without growing. It’s called growing pains for a reason. If growing was easy, if there was no tribulation in it, then no one would have really learned much of anything, anyway.

At one point, I finished a mid-term and did not feel great about it. I went to my study team and said, it went okay. And one of my classmates said to me, “Tam, how dare you come out of the weekend and not feel good about this exam and you didn’t call me. I was sitting at home all day on Saturday. I would have come over and sat with you for five, six, seven, eight hours until you understood that material. I’m here for you. Would you let me be here for you.”

Byrne: Ramu, what advice would you give a prospective student who is just beginning to look at MBA programs?

Annamalai: Start early. For me, this process took a lot of soul searching. It’s a grueling process. You need to be prepared for those recommendation letters. You need to be able to prepare your recommenders for the essay they write. That all takes time. Even before this, a lot of introspection is important to understand yourself and what you want. So, start early. Get the GMAT out of the way if you can.

Talk to people. If you can visit the campus, visit the campus. Start those conversations. Build a tracker of who you’re talking to and keep notes on what they’re saying. Build that profile of what the school is to you. It’s not what someone else tells you it is; you have to write your own persona for the school and how you think you fit with it. Fit is a two-way street. It’s not only how you think your values align with the school but how the school’s values align with you. Once you actually get to that stage, hopefully in early August or so, you feel ready for your round one applications so you can really knock them out. You understand what your strengths are and what you want to get out of your essays, your recommender letters, and your resume. Staring early is the best advice.

Byrne: Ariana, do you have any advice?

Almas: Something that I don’t think is said enough is to, if you are able to go visit the schools, go during a non-admissions, set-up weekend. They’re putting on the best shows. If you really want to get a sense of a place, go when the best outfits aren’t on and that’s when you can really start to observe people in their natural habitats in school. You get to see those little things that really contribute to what the culture is.

Almas: I love that advice and what I might suggest is that if you can go a few days before the admitted students weekend you get that. By talking to current students, you’re not really ever talking to someone who is going to be your classmate. By going during an admitted student’s weekend, I think one of the things I was most eager to see is, who was I going to sit next to in class? So, I think that at least going to the admitted students set-up gave me a more realistic view of who they’d be.

Then the only thing I’d add is that I looked for schools that I could be a trailblazer at. I was clear that a lot of the direction I was coming from and going toward was not going be strictly business. That’s why I like that business is becoming more interdisciplinary and more nuanced. I felt it Ross, where I could go and be a trailblazer and set up a new path and not feel like I was an anomaly. At Ross, I felt celebrated, respected and supported.

Byrne: Tam, you’re going to Uganda. Ariana, you went to Cambodia. Nate and Ramu, were global opportunities important to you in selecting an MBA program? If so, did you participate in any?

Micon: I think global opportunities were certainly important. The world is becoming increasingly global and learning how to interact with people all over the world is obviously important. I think there are a few different opportunities that I took advantage of at SOM. Most obviously, I did an international experience trip. At Yale, you’re required to have some type of global studies requirement, so I took a class and then went to Israel. The class was a quarter long and it was focused on the history and culture of the Middle East broadly and then in Israel specifically.

When we went there, we learned a lot about their start-up culture. We met with a lot of founders and a lot of different start-ups, as well as different governmental organizations and some diplomats to get a broader understanding of the area. What I really took out of that class were two things:

The class was composed of 30 or so students, and it was the first time we started mixing class outside of our cohort. Just a group of 14 of us went to Jordan first, and we were in the desert for two days without cell phones. It was the first time for over a half a year that I just had to stop and put my phone away because we couldn’t use it. We sat around a campfire and just talked and talked about why we were in school and what motivated us. Where we came from and where we saw the world. Getting into those deep conversations is when it initially clicked people who are around you all the time have very different perspectives and have very different motivations. It’s a disservice to kind of be next the somebody for six months and not really get to know them on a deeper level. I think that’s when I started realizing the importance of getting to know your classmates and getting to know the people that you work with. I think in that sense, it was very transformative.

Another thing. Another way that I really think that I’ve learned to operate more globally is, just the sheer number of people who go to school with me, who are not from the United States or have a foreign passport. At Yale, it’s like 50%. So, you’re forced to interact and learn how different people approach different problems. There’s obviously within the curriculum, a lot of global cases and you’ll talk about multinationals and you’ll take classes on being a global team and how different teams can overcome cross cultural barriers. When you’re a small learning team of four people, half of them are not from the United States. That right there is an opportunity that you have to learn how to work on a global team. That just pushes you from day one. You can’t shield yourself from it because it’s all international all around you.

Annamalai: I think that’s a good point. Working with international students definitely gives you a new dynamic in your group settings. I went to Peru. I went to Norway. That being said, I did do some work in Deloitte internationally. I worked in London for a little bit. Then my internship was at Prodigy Finance, an international student lending company. In that capacity, I was really able to interface with people from London, from the South Africa office and our chief business development officer was really focused on developing that idea of how do we work across borders. He recommends a book called The Culture Map, which I think is a really fantastic read. It talks about the differences in culture. How communication styles are very different from an implicit and explicit communication styles and how do you kind of navigate that pathway.

Byrne: We’re running out of time but we have a couple of questions from our audience. Given what you know now, what if anything would you do differently in your MBA journey? Ariana, do you wanna tackle that?

Almas: One of the things I do regret and I wish I’d done more of was just really prioritizing my mental and physical and emotional health while I was here.  I think it’s something that we don’t talk about a lot in different business programs and even in business in general. At Microsoft, where I was this summer, wellness was very important. I didn’t realize it until a month ago, but our counseling and psychological services are right across the street from my dorm. If I had known that, I’d like to think I would’ve gone more often. I’m trying to take advantage of it before I leave and build some really good habits. I think that’s something that is really important. It is a transformative experience but it’s also grueling and there are hard times. You’re not surrounded by the folks that have helped you get here. Taking advantage of that and just making sure that you’re prioritizing the things that are important to you, whether it be your mental and physical health, is really important.

Byrne: Tam, do you have advice?

Emerson: What would I change so far? It’s more of what I would have done to prepare to come in. I didn’t even recognize that there was going to be a different language I would have to learn. I really wish I would have done something as simple as picked up a few business books beforehand so that when I got here I didn’t feel so much like I was a fish out of water trying to both learn a new language and meet all these people and figure out which co-curricular things I would be involved in. That would have been pretty simple to have done.

Byrne: Ramu, here’s a question from someone on Facebook. What’s surprised you most about the MBA experience?

Annamalai: My brother has a PhD and he saw his friends at Wharton having a really fun time and said, ‘Oh those business school kids. All they do is just party.’ Our classes are tough. They are academically rigorous. It can be grueling. That on top of the recruiting and the networking, on top of the stress of actually just living away from you hometown, can all kind of pile up on you. You need to have your own space. Your own time. Set some time on your calendar to have some personal space and time. Maybe some gym time or a phone call with your wife or girlfriend. You need that time as well because this is mentally and physically grueling.

Byrne: Nate, biggest surprise for you?

Micon: I think what surprised me is, you come in and you have all these expectations, like that everything is going to be different and that you have all of these opportunities. I think it’s very easy to kind of fall into whatever your niche is and kind of stay in your little silo or in your track, even though there’s 300 really interesting people around you. If you’re not very conscious about it, I think it’s very easy to go through the motions every single day. Go to class and do your homework and hang out with your group of friends that you’ve met at the very beginning of the year and never really expand your horizons. Which, I think, is a real shame if you go ahead and do that. If you aren’t conscious about how you’re spending your time and you don’t prioritize your time correctly, it’s very easy to just kind of go through the motions and just check a lot of boxes, without really pushing yourself and consciously trying to make sure that you’re going down the path that you set out for yourself. I think the biggest surprise is how important it is to really know yourself at all times. Know what you’re trying to get out of the day, out of the week, out of the month.

Byrne: That’s great advice. Believe it or not, our time has run out. I think that you’ve provided a lot of valuable insight and perspective to people out there that might be considering this degree. I do think it is a transformative experience and I can judge by your comments that none of you have any remorse about this whatsoever.

THE COMPLETE MBA SUMMIT

Candid perspectives from MBA students, admission officials, and employers

VETTING TOP MBA PROGRAMS

HOW TO GET INTO A TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL

WHAT AMAZON, GOOGLE & MCKINSEY REALLY WANT FROM MBA HIRES

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.