Interview With Keegan Pierce, ESADE Business School Alum

Besides meeting admissions directors and others from business schools, attendees at the CentreCourt event in London also got the chance to hear from five alumni who spoke about their experiences at business school.

Keegan Pierce took his MBA at ESADE in Barcelona and is now UK and Ireland delegate at La Liga, the Spanish football league. He spoke to Matt Symonds, co-director of CentreCourt, about the benefits of a flexible MBA, what makes ESADE students stand out from the crowd, and how a broken elbow taught him how to collaborate.

Matt: I was going to ask you to tell us something fun about you beyond your career, but working with football every day sounds like fun to a lot of people.

Keegan: You know, it’s an incredible industry. Sport is very much at the heart of the entertainment industry these days. I fell in love with football when the World Cup came to the US in 1994, and from there it’s been my passion, both personally and professionally.

Matt: Right. Most MBA graduates, the brands that they think about are the McKinseys and the Goldmans of this world, increasingly Amazon and others. But La Liga is sitting on truly global brands, whether it’s FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and many other teams beyond that. How did business school prepare you for that?

Keegan: I worked previously in football, within Major League Soccer. And so my orientation to the industry had already existed, but I felt, at a certain point, I was lacking business fundamentals. I really needed to understand how the different parts of a business worked, and how to manage stakeholders within an industry.

So, for me, the big takeaways from doing an MBA at ESADE were understanding how to analyze the environment that you’re in, understanding exactly how different components of a business really fit together, and what each of their objectives and their worldviews are.

And, working with other people. ESADE has several outstanding points, but the diversity of its students on multiple factors or multiple levels means that you’re really exposed to working with people who are completely different from you in every way possible.

Matt: Right. The typical applicant pool might have software engineers, bankers, consultants, and not many people presumably working in sport like yourself. What was the accomplishment pre-MBA that you are most proud of, and did you share it with the school?

Keegan: I spent five years as the Director of Communications in broadcasting for a club within Major League Soccer. In my final season before coming and doing the MBA in Barcelona, our team was named the MLS PR team of the year. Directing a group of individuals to win an award that was reflective of our work, and also our reputation among our key stakeholders within the industry, was a really important thing for me.

Matt: What was it about ESADE that really sort of stood out to you and appealed to you?

Keegan: I was looking to be in a different cultural environment, and to make sure I was challenging myself in that way. I think when you look at ESADE, it’s really the culture, as an organization, that stands out, even among top European schools. It’s creative, it’s collaborative, and it really has a diverse base of students that you can engage with. I think all of those things together, plus the fact that you can still choose the duration of your MBA at ESADE, so you can pick whether you finish it in 12 or 15 or 18 months. For me, that really was a way of reducing the opportunity costs of being on an MBA program.

Matt: Right. And, we’ve seen this growing demand for the shorter European format versus the two-year programs in the US, but that’s still an intensive experience with your fellow classmates. Was there a sort of a commonality or some sort of characteristic or value system that transcended all of those individuals?

Keegan: I think ESADE students are very creative, for sure. They’re very charismatic. I think if you look at the way that ESADE students present, the way that they engage or network within the industry, whatever industry you happened to be, it tends to really stand out, even among other MBA students. I think ESADE students are also very determined. They tend to be people who are really pushed forward by their sense of, not only just achieving well in their careers, but making some kind of an impact as well. Look at the number of case studies that ESADE students are consistently winning in a competition format. And, clearly, there’s a real thing that makes them stand out in that regard.

Matt: Right. Is there one skill in particular that you felt that you really had the chance to develop that you’ve been able to use in your position with La Liga?

Keegan: I think so many of the things that you learn in business school, you apply almost immediately as soon as you pick them up. Then there are other things that you see the relevance of as you move forward in your career. For me, yes, you learn lots about different parts of business and that helps you to understand different business problems that you encounter. But really, it’s working with people who are so different from you, and learning how to manage in multi-stakeholder environments. Certainly, the sports/entertainment industry is very much a multi-stakeholder environment and being in a group setting, being in the trenches, so to speak, having to work with people on projects and putting together ideas and making them a reality was something that I use every single day in my current role.

Matt: It was a big step, taking an MBA. It’s a big investment of time and money. Was there a defining moment that said: “Yeah, this is what it was all supposed to be about”?

Keegan: I suppose for me the defining moment really was about halfway through my MBA. I broke my elbow in an accident biking through the streets of Barcelona. That was the final term of my first year and I was with a group of people who I had only been working with for a couple of weeks at that point. Every single one of us managed to put the work together that made us finish at the top of most of the classes that we were in. And, for me, it was a different perspective on what it’s like to collaborate with others, because you realize that no one is an island. You have to be able to depend on other people to get work done. I couldn’t type, I couldn’t write for about two months during that period of time. But I could influence. You realize that if you collaborate in the right way and you communicate with the right way, you can still put your stamp on things and still help to bring a project across the finish line.

Matt: And, you’ve got full mobility.

Keegan: I got it back. I’m using the same arm to hold the microphone, so everything’s in shape.

Matt: Is there something that you really miss about the program?

Keegan: I’m fortunate that I continue to teach classes at ESADE, so I am back at the MBA campus on a regular basis. The campus is spectacular. Anybody who’s considering ESADE should definitely come and take a look at it for themselves. The only thing I regret is that I see the ESADE MBA and how it’s grown, and I wish I was doing the current version of it because it just gets better and better, year after year.

Matt: Right. Now, in terms of your own career that continues to evolve and develop, where would you love to be in five or eight years from now and, again, how is that MBA experience is going to help you to get there?

Keegan: The industry is so dynamic that even imagining five to eight months down the road feels like a long leap. But I love what I do. I’m very passionate about it. I love doing it in such a cosmopolitan place as London. And, for me, it’s really about the impact you have and the role you’re in, and how you can carry that forward. Our organization is looking really to push the limits of what’s being done in the football space. And so I think we’re going to continue to have our hands full in the coming years with projects all around the globe, and I want to keep being a part of that.

Matt: Well, good luck with that. Thanks for finding the time to join us from one of the El Clasico business schools of Spain. Keegan Pierce, it was lovely talking with you.

Keegan: Thanks so much, Matt. It’s a pleasure.

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