Meet Columbia Business School’s MBA Class Of 2020

Martin Palmer

Columbia Business School

Passionate veteran committed to finding innovative and creative solutions to significant problems.”

Hometown: Berkley, Michigan

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have six brothers (no sisters) and am an identical twin – never a dull moment growing up!

Undergraduate School and Major: United States Military Academy, American Politics and Political Strategy

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: United States Army, ‘Green Beret’ Special Forces Detachment Commander

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Frantic, scared, and desperate, the Syrian commander told me he was going to order his forces to retreat.  Minutes before, enemy fighters had bombed the Syrian fighters with whom my team of 12 Green Berets had been fighting alongside and advising for the previous four months. This was a critical moment in our campaign to take a key city in Syria—after weeks of fighting, we were within a few hundred yards of our final objective when the bombs struck the Syrian fighters without warning, inflicting several casualties. If the Syrian commander pulled his forces off the objective, all our hard-fought progress would be lost and we would lose the ability to take the key city from the Islamic State (ISIS). I pulled him aside, stressed to him the importance of seizing the objective and assuaged his fears of losing more fighters. “More than ever, now is the time you have to take this objective,” I said. Finally, the commander agreed. Beyond not ordering a retreat, he rallied his fighters and we rapidly seized the objective, dealing a major blow to ISIS in the region.

This success in our campaign against ISIS was only possible because I and my team had spent the previous four months establishing trust, credibility, and dependability with our Syrian partners. While this event unfolded over the course of only a few hours, to me it signified the success of my tireless efforts to establish this trust and credibility. I was proud of the influence, adaptability, and problem solving I exhibited during the mission and knew that we were well positioned to continue our success for the rest of the deployment.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Collaborative. The team mentality of the CBS community has been apparent in every interaction I’ve had with my CBS classmates. Coming from a team-oriented culture in the Army, I learned the importance of approaching problems together and drawing on the unique strengths of every team member. I know this will continue at Columbia. My classmates have repeatedly demonstrated a desire to ensure everyone is successful, sharing tips and advice for getting the most of our CBS experience when we arrive on campus.

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? The comprehensiveness of the education. In researching business schools, each school seemed to have one facet of the MBA experience that it was renowned for, such as a robust alumni network or a top-notch education, but would not be as strong in the other factors I was considering. CBS stood out because of how well-rounded the education was. Through conversations with students, alumni, and admissions representatives, it was clear that a CBS education consisted of rigorous classroom instruction (as the students were quick to point out!) and collaborative learning outside the classroom through cluster events, accomplished guest speakers from nearby top companies in NYC, industry treks, and professional and affinity club trips. This wholesome education is what set CBS apart and I knew the school would best prepare me for the business world.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Last November, I set foot on Columbia’s campus for the first time for a conference for prospective veteran students hosted by members of the CBS Military in Business Association (MIBA). The MIBA club members gave an honest and candid perspective on the CBS MBA experience and I was struck by the genuine interest they took in helping us navigate through the challenging MBA application process. It was clear that a top MIBA priority is to actively integrate with the rest of their CBS classmates through a variety of MIBA-sponsored events. These events allow club members to share lessons gained from their military experiences and gain insight from their classmates’ unique backgrounds. I look forward to partaking in these events to contribute to my classmates’ CBS experience and to enhance my own education by learning from the diverse backgrounds of my classmates.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?  My nine-year Army career has allowed me to refine my leadership and interpersonal skills in a variety of challenging and unique environments. As I transition to the business world, I know that the skills I gained from my time in the Army will prove valuable in solving complex business problems. My CBS experience will complement these skills with insight garnered from interactions with my CBS classmates, a robust alumni network, unparalleled access to leading companies, and a strong business education. With this well-rounded education from CBS, I am confident I will be able to continue to solve important problems in an impactful and enduring way.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? CBS does an excellent job of working with veterans to ensure they maximize their educational monetary benefits acquired through their military service. I was able to finance my entire MBA through a combination of the GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program, and a CBS scholarship. With the financial assistance and the confidence that a CBS MBA would best set me up for career success, attending CBS was an easy decision.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to five other business schools that were in line with my selection criteria. All were top-ten programs, but CBS stood out as the school that best afforded me the opportunity to get the most out of my two years in business school.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? As I began researching business schools, I evaluated the strength of academics, community culture, employment opportunities, and geographical location. An abundance of information is available online for each business school and it proved a good place for me to start my research. I read online profiles of each school from as many sources as I could, scoured each school’s website to learn their core values and mission, and came up with a list of schools that were in line with my priorities.

The next step for me was to reach out to members of each business school and ask for a few minutes of their time to discuss their MBA experience so far. Many affinity and professional clubs have contact information on their websites and responded quickly to me. A few ten minute discussions with various current students provided great insight into the unique culture at each school. Many students would even connect me with an alumnus with a similar background to me, and these alumni were similarly able to talk about what the school offered them and how it benefitted them in their professional careers.

Finally, there is no substitution for a campus visit. I visited each of the six schools on my list and took advantage of as many opportunities as they offered for visiting prospective students. Sitting in on a class, chatting with admissions representatives, and attending happy hours with current students all were very beneficial in understanding the true culture of each school and whether I could see myself as a student at that school.

By the time it came to select an admissions offer, I was well informed and confident I had made the right decision in which business school to attend.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? In 2011, I deployed as an Infantry platoon leader to the village of Puzeh, Afghanistan. We were the first Americans in Puzeh in three years and the villagers were skeptical of our presence. This village in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province had long suffered from Taliban oppression, and was attacked daily. To enable long-lasting security, I decided to create a local police force comprised of Puzeh villagers. One month into the program, however, the force consisted of only one villager. The remaining villagers feared retribution from the Taliban. My platoon showed its commitment to them by fighting against the Taliban’s daily attacks and building infrastructure. I also held daily meetings with the village elders, addressing their concerns.

After four months, the police force had grown to 25 villagers, trained by my platoon. As a result, Taliban forces left the area and their attacks ceased. More importantly, we had given the village the ability to resist the Taliban on their own, even after my platoon left. When the village elder thanked me, I knew I wanted to continue making a positive impact in challenging and seemingly impossible environments. I decided to become a Green Beret. The motto of the Green Berets, “De Oppresso Liber,” meaning “freeing the oppressed,” defined my new career goal. Although it meant almost two years of intense training, and an even more demanding commitment as a Detachment Commander, I was able to live out this motto with my team of twelve Green Berets as we partnered with Middle Eastern forces in their fight for freedom. 

What do you plan to do after you graduate? Following graduation, I plan to start a career in management consulting. The skills of teamwork, influence, and leadership I developed in the military and the business skills I will gain from my CBS experience will establish a strong foundation for success in the industry. As a Special Forces Detachment Commander, I commanded a team of twelve Green Berets and we would work together to solve complex and sensitive problems in challenging environments. Often, I was responsible for advising a very senior foreign military commander and my Special Forces team would integrate with his unit, sometimes numbering over 500 soldiers. Working through language and cultural differences, limited resources, and difficult mission objectives, I was able to influence these senior leaders to achieve success. In management consulting, I look forward to achieving similar success by working with a team of fellow consultants to take on complex business problems, influence senior business leaders, and develop actionable and practical solutions for our clients.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Whether it was one of my four deployments to the Middle East or serving on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee, I have made a commitment in my career to never settling for the status quo and using my talents to positively impact those around me. I’ll continue this effort in my post-Army career. Five years from now, equipped with my CBS MBA and with three years of industry experience under my belt, I will have a solid foundation of a world-class education and industry experience. This foundation will ensure I am best suited to continue my goal of positively impacting those around me, be it by advising a large corporation on improving their organization or by my work outside of my professional career, such as taking a leadership role in a volunteer organization. I plan on being fully prepared to take a more senior leadership position in the company I work for, actively playing a role in the direction of the company and constantly striving to better the organization. In this way, I am confident I’ll be continuing to adhere to the ethos that guided my military career.

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