2018 MBAs To Watch: Nathaniel Franks, Columbia Business School

Nathaniel Franks

Columbia Business School

Retired field hockey player and coach trying to find my way in the business world.”

Age: 33

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Fun fact about yourself: A week after receiving an offer to try-out (I made it fortunately!), I moved to Dublin, Ireland in 2009 to play men’s field hockey for the Clontarf Hockey Club for a season and a half. We won an undefeated outdoor league championship in 2009 and finished 5th in the Irish Indoor Championships in 2010.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Princeton University, Politics, 2007

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

  • USA Field Hockey, Performance Analyst Men’s and Women’s National Teams, 2011-2016
  • Princeton University, Field Hockey Assistant Coach, 2011-2012
  • Bucknell University, Field Hockey Assistant Coach, 2010-2011
  • Clontarf Hockey Club, Men’s Field Hockey Player, 2009-2010
  • American University, Field Hockey Assistant Coach, 2007-2009

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Amazon, Pathways Operations Intern, SAT2 warehouse in San Marcos, Texas

Where will you be working after graduation? KPMG, Advisory Senior Associate in the Strategy practice

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Co-Vice President of Connect I and II for the Hermes Society. Connect is CBS’s student welcome weekend where we host more than 200 admitted students and try to give them a taste of what life is like in school on the Friday of the weekend and then show them around New York City on the Saturday of the weekend.
  • Teaching Assistant for the core Financial Accounting class and for Behavioral Economics and Decision-making
  • Case interviewer coach for 1st years in the Management Consulting Association – conducted 63 interviews in 7 weeks to help with 1Y recruiting.
  • 2nd year mentor for five 1st years in the General Management Association.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of the unique things about Columbia Business School is CBS Matters, a program started by a student a few years ago where you have the opportunity to stand up in front of your friends and classmates and talk about whatever matters to you. I gave the first CBS Matters presentation for my cluster in October 2016. Despite my background in coaching which requires a lot of public speaking, I was incredibly nervous. I figured the only reason to get up and talk about my life, to explain how I went from being an 11 year old testing out field hockey in PE class to playing in Ireland and being on two US Olympic staffs, was to approach my story with maximum candor. I admitted at the outset that I was nervous at being this vulnerable, but I felt comfortable doing it because of the warm, supportive environment my cluster had created in the 6 weeks we’d been together. It ended up being the best thing I could have done to make friends and forge meaningful connections – I was able to share what mattered most to me with my clustermates and they were able to see a side of me that I wouldn’t have shared in class.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proudest of earning a place on the 2012 US Olympic Women’s Field Hockey Team staff. I was the last staff member added to the group after being told for months that there wouldn’t be a place for me and I’ll remember the phone call inviting me to join the team in May 2012 for the rest of my life. More significantly, I’ll also remember the unrestrained joy of calling my father, forcing him to leave a work event because he couldn’t hear me and having him be struck speechless once he understood I was going to the London Olympics. Actually being a part of two Olympics was an incredible experience, but the feeling of joy that night in 2012 is the thing I’ll never forget.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Alon Kalay, who taught my core accounting class, was my favorite professor. I showed up to business school exhausted from the Rio Olympics without a business background, let alone knowing anything about accounting. In the very first class, Professor Kalay stopped someone who used an acronym and said “Nope, I don’t understand what IPO means, no acronyms.” This was a great pedagogical tool to set the tone for the course, but it was such an empathetic message for those of us in the room who knew what an IPO was but had never heard most of the other terms that cropped up in class. It was a real privilege to serve as his teaching assistant my 2nd year and try to bring the same empathy to my 1st years.

What was your favorite MBA Course? My favorite course was Behavioral Economics and Decision Making taught by Professor Elizabeth Webb. So much of business school is about rational answer and rational outcomes – how the world is supposed to work – but Professor Webb’s class is all about how the world actually works, about the biases and shortcuts that individuals use to make complicated decisions and how we can all be more self-aware so that we’re not unconsciously sliding into these decision making biases.

Why did you choose this business school? It’s impossible to separate New York City from Columbia Business School – it was such a powerful draw to earn my MBA in one of the great cities of the world where almost every Fortune 500 company has an office a subway ride away.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The MBA admissions process can be opaque and stressful, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for growth and reflection. To be able to answer why I wanted to attend Columbia, I had to think very carefully about my career to that point and what strengths and weaknesses I would bring to the Columbia community. That process was invaluable in preparing me for business school.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think there’s this perception that CBS is a finance school because of the Value Investing Program and our proximity to Wall Street, but I have classmates whose interests run the gamut from finance to social enterprise to tech to general management.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish that I had been less caught up in recruiting during my 1Y fall and taken better advantage of the social opportunities within the clubs.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my cluster mate Elsbeth Grant. Elsbeth was a middle school math teacher in the Bronx before CBS and used her summer internship to study challenges facing military-connected students during school transitions. Aside from the fact that Elsbeth is a great cluster mate – she always has a smile and kind word for everyone and is a consistent presence at every cluster event – I’m convinced that in 20 years that I’ll be able to tell people that I went to school with the Secretary of Education and of all my classmates, I’m most eager to see what Elsbeth does after school. And whenever Elsbeth uses a teaching method to get people to be quiet and pay attention, I find myself storing it away in my mind for later use until I remember I’m not a coach anymore. I wish I had done some cross-functional training with a teacher like Elsbeth because it would have made me a far better coach!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My best friend from growing up in Washington, D.C., Sam Travers, was the person who most influenced me to pursue an MBA. I’ve always admired Sam for his drive and focus. Since there weren’t role models for me at work who had MBAs (because that’s not a qualification you need to work on the performance side of an Olympic sport), I peppered him with questions. His background in government was non-traditional like mine in the sense that it was non-business, so what I was really asking him was whether I’d fit in at business school and could be successful. Fortunately, Sam could not stop talking up how great his experience was and how much he was learning despite sharing the same concerns that I had about fitting in and being successful. Hearing my best friend’s enthusiasm helped convince me that this was the right idea and that I should pursue my MBA.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…the head coach of an NCAA Division I field hockey team.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I’d add at least one core course to the second year curriculum. Learning and experiencing the core with my cluster mates was one of the highlights of the MBA experience and I wish we could have recreated it for at least one class as second years!

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

1) Take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow and read War and Peace on the way

2) Go back to the summer Olympics as a spectator instead of participant and immerse myself in the Games for the full two weeks.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want them to remember me as someone who brought a sense of humor and positive attitude to everything he did at school, whether running Connect weekends, attending lecture, or going to the big social events.

What is your favorite movie about business? I wish I could give a deeply meaningful answer but Office Space is probably the best business movie I’ve ever seen. As I approached business school, I kept in the forefront of my mind not to allow myself to be complacent because nobody wants to work on TPS reports at a place like Initech.

What would your theme song be?Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor

Favorite vacation spot: Longboat Key, Florida

Hobbies? Reading fiction on my Kindle, listening to Bruce Springsteen music and seeing him perform when I can (5 concerts and counting) and running slowly for fun instead of running fast for field hockey training.





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