Meet Washington Foster’s MBA Class Of 2020

Nathan Haley

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

My best ideas start with “I’m just thinking out loud here…” Also my worst ideas.”

Hometown: Houston, TX, and a half dozen other places.

Fun Fact About Yourself: I was the first (and probably last) jazz cellist at my high school.

Undergraduate School and Major: Princeton University, Economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Project Finance Manager, McDermott International

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I co-developed and implemented decision support software and processes to optimize sourcing and financing plans in parallel on multibillion-dollar engineering and construction projects. A mouthful, I know – but it was actually beautifully simple once in place, and the value it captured was well worth the burnt midnight oil. Multiple projects on which it was deployed were named “Deal of the Year” by industry publications, and my former company considers it a key competitive differentiator.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Collaborative. Everyone has been happy to volunteer their valuable time to help others find their way.

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? There is a positive feedback loop between UW and the companies that call Seattle home, resulting in shared ambition, innovation, and rigor. I saw the MBA as my best opportunity to become a part of this ecosystem.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? While most of my collaborative music endeavors have been in the classical genre, I’d really like to push that envelope and see what’s jamming in Seattle.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I was at an inflection point in my industry and function – they said I could either specialize or stagnate. I picked the third option: Diversify my qualifications and open my mind to new prospects. The timing turned out to be perfect: I am fortunate to have been exposed to such a wide variety of activities since undergrad, but still have the flexibility and student mentality to address my blind spots and apply myself with vigor in new industries and functions.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? While the NPV picture was strong enough on its own, more importantly I knew that an MBA would help me realize my full professional potential faster and with more certainty when compared with another year and a half of work experience.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Booth (Chicago), Tepper (Carnegie Mellon), Jones (Rice)

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Rankings helped me form an initial shortlist (e.g. Foster’s Rankings Calculator is a wonderful initiative), but beyond that I avoided third-party research. Instead, I envisioned my desired outcome and worked backwards. Not just job title and salary, but also location, culture, lifestyle, and work-life balance. As a useful proxy, especially for locations that were unfamiliar to me, I was most interested in what alumni end up doing. Those I met were always happy to tell their stories, and statistics were available to ensure the anecdotes were representative. I kept an eye on my GMAT results to ensure I would be both (a) competitive in admissions and (b) surrounded by colleagues who would challenge me. After the decisions came in, the next step was talking to current students and asking them to be frank and critical about their experience regarding the remaining factors (e.g. facilities, living standards and so forth). After a lot of emotional investment in all the competing opportunities, I knew I had explored each to sufficient depth to be strongly confident in my choice of Foster.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? Fresh out of undergrad, I started at a company that had been in essentially the same business (construction) for over a hundred years. At that time, I couldn’t imagine how I could add value to an organization that had been perfecting their execution model for a century. However, after a shockingly short period, I realized that even in the most conservative, seemingly stagnant environments, there is so much hidden value buried in neglected markets, forgotten knowledge, bloated processes, and (most importantly) disempowered people. With hard work, determination, humility, and maybe a bit of cleverness, even the greenest team members can breathe fresh life into age-old operations. This experience instilled in me the strong belief that however subjective it may seem and rare it may be, good management exists – and it can make all the difference in the world.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I have an open mind and a lot of research to do, but my current strong interest is management and operations consulting. Long workdays fly by when I’m fully engaged on tough problems, and the idea of applying general experience across diverse industries appeals to me.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Working hard, learning every day and bringing exciting projects to life – the rest is details.

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