2018 MBAs To Watch: Joe Piganelli, Washington University (Olin)

Joe Piganelli

Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School     

On the journey of constant self-improvement, seeking to add value wherever I can.”

Age: 34

Hometown: Carmel, IN

Fun fact about yourself: I was a disc jockey on my high school’s radio station, WHJE.

Undergraduate School and Degree: US Naval Academy, Chemistry

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? TISHLER Industries as operations manager, and prior to that I served on a submarine in the US Navy.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Accenture, San Francisco

Where will you be working after graduation? Accenture, Management Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: President of the Olin Veterans Association

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am extremely privileged to lead the Missouri Veterans Commission Center consulting project conducted through Olin’s Experiential Learning. As I respond to this question now, the project is underway. I know that we’ll have significant and impactful strategic recommendations for the Commission that driven by facts and data and that can be enacted to improve the lives of veterans in the State of Missouri.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Significantly improving TISHLER Industries’ quality control program—reducing mistakes by double digit percentages. We drove a cultural change about how everyone in the organization thought about quality.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Kurt Dirks significantly changed and shaped the way I think about leadership and the role of politics in organizations. He teaches an extremely valuable and impactful class titled “Power and Politics in Organizations,” and it really should be a required course for graduation. He doesn’t instruct on what’s right or what’s wrong, but rather showcases examples and traits of famous iconic leaders. Professor Dirks gives examples of young businesspeople early on in their careers, allowing us to reflect on their successes and failures and the key contributing factors that lead to them. We are able to reflect and think of how we might apply that to our own lives. We also explore the idea that there can be a structured framework to how one can build a base of power and influence in an organization as a foundation for success.

What was your favorite MBA Course? “Defining Moments: Lessons in Leadership from the Top,” which was also taught by Kurt Dirks. Students have the privilege to learn about how extremely successful business leaders have overcome challenges and realized triumphs. These leaders also provided valuable advice for us as fresh MBAs entering the marketplace.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Olin because of the personal outreach that made this program stand out from the rest. Not only was I admitted and welcomed here, Olin showed me that they really wanted me to be here. The admissions office, career center, current Olin students, and alumni all invested significant time into finding out who I was as a candidate before I committed to the program. Additionally, I was shown how much Olin cares about veterans, and having veterans in their MBA program. Olin places an extreme value on the leadership experience and perspective that veterans bring to the program both in and out of the classroom. I also liked the fact that Olin had platforms that I could choose to specialize in (Consulting, Marketing, Finance, Operations, Entrepreneurship), or I could elect to be very broad in my studies. There is freedom to customize the MBA as each individual feels it will best suit them once they progress beyond the core curriculum in the first semester. I felt there was great value in that flexibility.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Come visit us and see the school for yourself. Meet the people who potentially will be your professors and fellow students. The Olin Family is not a cliché. The collaborative network is strong and we all help each other succeed.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That our sphere of influence is centered around St. Louis and doesn’t go much further past that. That couldn’t be more wrong. We have alumni all over the world. I have classmates going to both coasts and to different continents. Olin’s reach is global.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not taking any electives in marketing.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My core semester teammate Mike Choi. Mike is easily one of the smartest people I have ever met. He designed the algorithm for auto-sensing throttling and braking enhanced cruise control for a Korean automaker and tested it on his own vehicle driving around town. He is also one of the most friendly and welcoming people I have ever met. He greets close friends, strangers, and tough challenges with the same cheerful smile. Mike is one of the hardest working people you will meet, but he won’t let you see him sweat (he only once allowed us to witness this during the core semester). I wish I could be more like Mike, and I’m going to miss seeing him regularly.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My trusted friends who advised me that this would be the best way to make a career switch. I confirmed this with relatives who had done the same.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…managing operations at TISHLER Industries.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience?I would make Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning consulting practicums mandatory as part of the curriculum. The Center for Experiential Learning gives business students the opportunity to tackle ambiguous and difficult business problems for businesses, nonprofits, charities, and governments across the globe. It is as real as it can get without being on someone’s payroll. It is a true test of theory in the classroom meeting the dynamics of real world problems. Students manage and complete the projects. Students answer to each other and they answer to the client. I’m really not certain you could design a better learning environment to complete the MBA experience than this.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

1) Heli-skiing the Chugach Range

2) Successfully surfing on a shortboard

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a value-added team member they’d like to have with them on any project.

What is your favorite movie about business? Glengarry Glen Ross–The movie showcases the desperate environment created by a lack of leadership and what good and well-intentioned people might do in a void of value-based norms and culture. Also, Alec Baldwin clearly defines who ought to be drinking coffee, and who ought not to be.

What would your theme song be? “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters

Favorite vacation spot: Breckenridge, CO

Hobbies? Skiing, Golf

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

“Joe Piganelli has been an exemplary MBA student leader during his time at WashU’s Olin Business School. Joe, a former Navy officer, is the president of the Olin Veterans Association (OVA), the mission of which is to help military veterans transition to a career in business. The organization is comprised of approximately 75 current graduate business students and a large body of alumni. Joe set himself apart by the effectiveness at which he delivered on this mission—and the example he set in doing so. Under Joe’s leadership, the OVA had a series of events intended to help his fellow veterans including company-hosted visits, lunches with local business leaders, networking events with Olin veteran alumni, a career trek to the veteran career conference, and a 180-person dinner event bringing together current students, alums, faculty, and community leaders to honor military service. Joe did not stop there. He volunteered to lead a team of MBA students on a practicum commissioned by the office of the Governor of Missouri to identify ways to improve the care provided to veterans by the state. This project, currently underway, has tremendous opportunity for impact.

What is particularly inspiring is that Joe invests his time and energy in service of others—to his classmates, Olin Business School, and veterans in Missouri. The concept of delivering on a mission in service to others is why we so respect veterans. Joe modeled that ideal and inspired others to do so also. He is a true leader.”

Kurt T. Dirks

Bank of America Professor of Managerial Leadership and Co-Director of Bauer Leadership Center





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