Meet the Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2020

Zach Zimmerman

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business

I just want to be as funny as the people I follow on Twitter.”

Hometown: Ormond Beach, FL

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am the only diehard Orlando Magic fan you’ll ever meet.

Undergraduate School and Major: Stanford University, Psychology

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

R/GA, Portland, OR
Account Supervisor, Nike

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My first job out of college was with Red Bull Media House, where I was part of a leadership development program before becoming the product marketing manager for Red Bull TV. In that role, I was the marketing lead on a team of five young employees tasked with building a home for Red Bull’s vast inventory of content and subsequently developing an audience to actually watch it. To do this in such a competitive space, we needed to secure placement for the app and its content on the major digital over-the-top (OTT) devices.

It was a massive challenge, but when all was said and done, we launched apps on 12 partner platforms, including those of Apple, Microsoft, Google and the rest of the major players. We drove more than three million global downloads in our first year with nearly zero marketing budget. Awareness was entirely driven through relationship development with our technical partners, for which I was responsible, and through Red Bull’s owned channels.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Down-to-earth.

Every school I visited had applicants and students with incredible skills and achievements. Interacting with them was nothing short of a humbling experience, and I had a lot of fun getting a better sense of the diversity and purpose of the current business school population.

Naturally, in most of my visits, I encountered some of the negative stereotypes that follow MBA students: hypercompetitive, boastful, and disconnected from the broader university community. But at Ross, I connected with genuine, humble, down-to-earth people who seemed to really support each other and consider themselves part of the greater University of Michigan community. These are the types of peers with whom I want to spend two years and who I believe will help me extract the greatest value from my MBA experience.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Perceived fit. It’s a bit vague, and it seems crazy to select something like “intuition” as the key factor, but my official and unofficial admit visits really sealed it for me.

Going into the process, I was admittedly a bit blinded by rankings and thought that I should hitch my wagon to the acceptance call from highest-ranked school. But after speaking with students and digging deeper into employment statistics, this clearly was not the right approach.

I actually received some extremely simple but excellent advice from a current Ross student during an unofficial visit. Incredibly, and luckily for me, she faced the exact same decision as I did between three great schools just a few years before. She said, “An MBA is a two-year investment of your life. You want to pick a community that you believe you can give as much of yourself to as possible, and, in return, can give as much of itself back to you.” That was how she ultimately made her decision, and that really resonated with me.

From the second I stepped foot on the Michigan campus, I legitimately felt like part of the community. The admissions team, student body and faculty went out of their way to welcome and talk me through the Ross experience. As an added bonus, they bent over backwards to help my fiancée, a nurse practitioner, develop professional connections to help make the transition to her new home as smooth as possible.

There’s so much about Ross that makes it unique: its commitment to true action-based learning; its vast alumni network; the incredible community of Ann Arbor. And the recent jump into the Top 10 certainly doesn’t hurt. But the key factor in my selection was the perceived fit for both me and my partner.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Academically, I am excited to join the Michigan Marketing Club. I was really impressed by its current members and alumni, and I can’t wait to tap into Ross’ unique partnership with Nielsen Marketing Lab.

Recreationally, the Poker Club. I play a lot of poker, and I’m pretty confident that the competition at Ross will be better than at my current local game. I am excited for the challenge, even if a challenge is exactly what you don’t want at the poker table.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Two primary reasons:

I am extremely lucky to have worked for two world-renowned marketers (Red Bull and Nike) early in my career. This experience, combined with my editorial background – I was editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily and have written for most of my life – provided me with a fairly well-rounded, interdisciplinary skill set. However, in a data-driven world, I want to have an improved set of quantitative tools and strategies to effectively make decisions in my professional life. My previous roles have been more focused on the creative and partnership sides of marketing and less on true marketing analysis. I believe an MBA will provide me with that missing piece of the puzzle.

Secondly, I have become really passionate about organizational psychology in recent years, so much so that I at once explored pursuing a PhD in the field. In both of my professional stops, I have observed employer policies and structures that have tremendously affected productivity and work life, both positively and negatively. Given my ambitions to eventually lead a large marketing organization as a CMO, an MBA will give me the theoretical foundation to become an effective leader and the opportunities to apply that theory in real-world situations.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I spent the bulk of my time as an undergraduate thinking I would eventually pursue a career in sports journalism. It wasn’t until a not-so-great internship before my senior year that I decided to go in a different direction. That’s when I stumbled into marketing.

Because of the late switch, my pre-MBA career has really been a fortunate series of trials, where I have experienced the industry with a fresh perspective and learned, for better or worse, what I really do and don’t like. Now, six years deep, I feel like I have a solid understanding of my professional interests and motivations, as well as a clear idea of where I can personally improve and grow. Situationally, this was always where I wanted to be if and when I decided to go to business school.

Additionally, despite my experience, I felt that I was getting a bit boxed in to a career as an advertising account guy. My time at R/GA was great, but I’ve always envisioned myself more as a client-side, strategic decision-maker than as a client services representative for an agency. I knew that an MBA would allow me to expand my opportunities and cleanly transition away from this track, and this felt like the perfect time to make a change.

The time and financial impact were obviously factored in as well, but I had prepared for a potential trip to graduate school, and the two-year gap felt like a small but extremely worthwhile investment for the next 40+ years of my career.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Kellogg, Booth, Yale SOM

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Exclusively Poets & Quants, my favorite website on the internet.

But seriously, it began with a lot of online research. I did my best to get a general sense of what each school was about (taking answers from anonymous internet commenters with a grain of salt) and proceeded from there.

Then, I tried to identify students at each school that had similar paths, interests, or goals. The admissions departments were usually pretty helpful in connecting me with the right people, and the students provided a lot of good insights into the opportunities and resources available to like-minded peers.

I also evaluated the internship and employment statistics made available by each of the programs. Companies, roles and salaries were all important, but I was equally interested in the geographic breakdown of opportunities. I want to make my way back to the Pacific Northwest in the near future, so getting a sense of what was available in that region of the country was important.

However, as mentioned above, the most critical factor was the visit. Online resources, emails and phone calls can only tell you so much. The visits allowed us to sift through a lot of the jargon, ask some challenging, in-person questions and get a true sense for how we’d fit in as both student and partner.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? As a kid, I battled debilitating childhood anxiety. I was a huge sports fan and grew up idolizing anchors like Stuart Scott, who confidently and brilliantly shared his voice with the entire world every morning. I had my own dreams of becoming a SportsCenter anchor, but as I struggled through simple things like phone calls and class discussions. As a result, my aspirations felt out of reach.

Close to giving up, I identified an opportunity to host a sports radio show of my own on a local AM station that had an empty slot just before Monday Night Football. The first step was to pitch the station owner on my idea: an hour-long, call-in, pregame show, hosted by me, an anxious 16-year-old high school student. I worked tirelessly to build self-confidence as I prepared my presentation. I practiced delivering both my proposal and mock radio segments into the mirror. The actual pitch was daunting, but I ultimately landed the gig. This probably had more to do with the owner not feeling very attached to a one-hour slot on AM radio in Volusia County, FL, but I was nonetheless on top of the world.

The experience of hosting that show was indescribably empowering and is still one of the highlights of my life. It not only allowed me to live out one of my dreams, but also gave me the confidence to battle through adversity in the pursuit of my goals. I attribute that perseverance as a teenager to most of my success today.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I plan to make my way back client-side in a senior marketing role that allows me to combine my past experience as a creative marketer with the analytic rigor that I hope to acquire during business school. Ideally, I would team up with an active lifestyle brand. But with how broad marketing has become, I am keeping my options open.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I see myself having carved out an exciting and fulfilling career path. I hope to have made significant strides as an influential decision-maker and engaging leader in a company’s marketing organization and be well on my way to becoming a CMO.

Most importantly, I see myself back in the Pacific Northwest with my wife, dog and (maybe) first kid. Of all of my stops, this area of the country has felt most like home, and I would love to settle here one day. And no matter how challenging and thrilling my professional life becomes, I will always prioritize my family.

Meet the Class of 2020 Series

London Business School

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business

MIT Sloan School of Management

Columbia Business School

Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

Yale School of Mnnagement

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

New York University’s Stern School of Business

Emory’s Goizueta School of Business

Washington University’s Olin Business School