2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Alistair Wallace, Texas A&M (Mays)

Alistair Wallace

Texas A&M University, Mays Business School

“Christian, husband, and business owner.”

Hometown: Dumfries, United Kingdom

Fun fact about yourself: I have ten toes, but only nine toenails.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Undergraduate: Edinburgh University, Law

Graduate: Edinburgh University, Diploma in Legal Practice

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Alistair Wallace Investments Limited, Owner/Director

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? HPE Finance, Houston, Texas

Where will you be working after graduation? Alistair Wallace Investments Limited, Owner/Director

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Awards

Recipient of the Dr. Jerry R. Strawser Outstanding MBA Student Award

Receipt of the MBA Scholar Award

2nd Place Team, Mays Business School MBA Venture Challenge

Service

ASK Community after-school club leader in Bryan, Texas

Counselor and volunteer at Sandy Creek Bible Camp near Brenham, Texas

The Big Event Community Service Volunteer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I have two of which I am most proud, for very different reasons. First, it was leading a group of young children in an after-school club was a challenging but rewarding experience. The Christian charity of Community Bible Study supports an ASK group in the severely underprivileged area of Bryan, Texas. For a few hours each week, we were able to provide the children with a safe place to be, Christian teaching, food, friends, and (hopefully) fun. I have been blessed throughout my life, so it was a privilege to be allowed to give back in my temporary community during business school.

Second, I am very proud and humbled to have been selected by faculty staff for the Outstanding MBA Student Award. I was surprised, as there were so many other classmates to whom I would have given the award. It is my hope to in turn make the faculty and program proud as I go forth into the world as a Mays Business School alumni, and will be a reminder to always portray the Aggie values of Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Respect, and Selfless Service.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Buying my first business at the age of 25 was an extremely scary and satisfying moment. I had left my career as a lawyer, and the potential rewards this path could have, to dive head-first into the unknown. I also had very little capital to my name, so had to carefully plan out funding options. The small gas station bought those four years ago is still standing, and after funding me through business school, will be the foundation of future business growth.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dr. Cynthia Devers.

Dr. Devers, our strategy and negotiations professor, had a unique way of weaving together all that we were learning in business school to look at one of the most important business elements – strategy. Her classes allowed for high levels of student input, guided by real cases, and her own wealth of knowledge on the subject. Any MBA student would do well to learn what this class teaches, and the importance of the strategic direction a company is taking.

In addition, Dr. Devers introduced our class to negotiation – an incredibly important, but often overlooked, skill for all business jobs.

Why did you choose this business school? The two biggest draws for me were (1) the size of Mays Business School, and (2) the school culture.

(1) Being a smaller school, I felt that the education I would receive would be a lot more personal, together with the care from all the ancillary staff. This proved to be true, especially when I ended up hospitalized for three days in the second week of my MBA – our program director kindly popped into the hospital with some cake!! I got to know most of my classmates well, and the faculty were able to pour a lot more of their knowledge into each student.

(2) I was lucky to know a number of people in Texas before applying to business schools, and the one thing they all said was that Texas A&M is a “nice” school. They could not exactly describe what they meant, nor could I have experienced it, but it is there. Whether it is the Aggie Network, the community service undertaken throughout the university, or the fact it is a big university in a small town I do not know – but all these things did make it a “nice” school culture.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be yourself. While it makes me squirm giving such a cliché answer, I fully believe it to be true. You can have the best qualifications possible, but if you are not well matched for the business school you are at as a person, then you will struggle regardless. Mays wants you to succeed as who you are, not the veneer you can put on during an interview. Cultural fit with a business school is vital, so if you try to be someone who you are not during an interview, the only person you are cheating is yourself.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I am not aware of any myths surrounding Mays Business School, though I, of course, heard various reasons why people imagined our MBA program was 18 months rather than the traditional 2-year program. What these people said (such as it is a cheap course due to only 3 semesters of tuition, or an inferior course) could not have been further from the truth. I was lucky enough to have various discussions with the program office regarding this, so know the work and research that went into making the 18-month program possible. Going through an MBA in 18 months is tough, but I believe it produces a better candidate than a 24-month program. What others did in 24 months, we did in 18 months – in business terms that increased efficiency of 25%.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I had better known what my goal of business school was. While I knew I wanted to increase my knowledge of the subject area, I was unsure whether this would be to put into practice in a company of my own, or in employment elsewhere. I was lucky in that I strayed down the entrepreneurship track, which then confirmed to me that I wanted to return to grow my already-established business. However, I am aware that for students who are looking for employment, but without knowing in which area, it is very difficult for the program and career center to support them as there is no clear path to direct towards. Therefore, I would encourage any prospective MBA student to also carefully consider the main companies that their prospective schools have relationships with – if none of those main companies are places you would like to work, then I would recommend continuing your search.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? To pick only one classmate I most admire is difficult, especially when there are so many who have incredibly admirable qualities. There are those who did awesome work in running the MBA organizations, organizing the social events, or representing the school at case competitions. However, one does stand out, and that is Jun Hyuk (Tommy) Yoo. Tommy traveled to Texas from South Korea, with a strong background through his work at LG Electronics. However, Tommy was far from fluent in English when he arrived, adding a large language barrier to all he did.

I had the pleasure of first working with Tommy in a FLIP presentation, where he went above-and-beyond by preparing full financial projection spreadsheets no one had asked for and memorizing his presentation segment perfectly. Tommy and I then worked together in our Capstone team, in which he would do almost double the work by re-reading every document to translate into Korean, and re-listening to recorded meetings. I know he had to do this extra work for all his classes. On top of all this, he was a father to his young son, a husband to his wife, and always – no matter what – did his work with a genuine smile on his face.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? I now know that it is for good reason that business school is described as transformative – as it transformed how I looked at myself as a person and as a leader. I now value and desire feedback on who I am, and the attributes I possess – such as through 360° reviews, or Birkman tests. Every piece of knowledge should then be knit together to continue the leadership journey in a positive manner. Previously, I had seen leadership as static – that who I already was as a leader could not be changed. This thinking has been transformed into the knowledge that with the correct tools, my leadership qualities can improve as I journey forward.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Sabrina Wallace, whom I married part-way through my MBA, was my biggest influence in pursuing business in college. I loved owning my own small business and had never imagined going back to school after leaving my undergraduate degree. However, Sabrina was in the position to hear both my frustrations about the small size of my business, and see what it was that might be holding me back. Sabrina encouraged me to identify what I thought was stopping my business from expanding, and then work to fill that gap. This led me to pursue the business knowledge I needed to run a business, rather than managing a single, small gas station.

What is your favorite movie about business? 12 Angry Men. While not specifically a business movie, the portrayal of the twelve characters of the jury caused me to self-reflect on my own character in a business context. Juror 8, the only juror to initially not vote guilty, reflects a lot of the business characteristics of an inspirational business leader. It reminded me of the importance of careful consideration, and how best to navigate discussions with various character types.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? As a Scotsman at an American business school, I was already struggling with understanding terminology (the British first floor is the American second floor – try using that as an excuse for being late to class…). The one I found goofiest was STAR – I used to love stars, especially gazing at them (the night sky ones, not the celebrity ones), but now detest them. Surely not every story fits into the Situation, Task, Action, Result formula. If I ever interview someone, if they can give the STAR information in a different and more engaging way, I am sure now they will shine brighter in my eyes!

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…plodding along in life owning a small gas station, instead of dreaming bigger, with the foundational knowledge to turn some of those dreams into reality.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? $200,000. It was definitely worth more than what I paid for it, which with my new knowledge on ROI (return on investment) coupled with NPV (net present value) makes me a very happy man.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Have children and retire when I can still play golf.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as a quiet guy who sought ways to give back to his community.

Hobbies? Sports of all kind, but particularly curling and golf. Traveling. Volunteering.

What made Alistair such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Alistair Wallace brings intellect, collaborative leadership, and a spirit of selfless service to everything he does. A classmate described him as “a brilliant team player who puts others first, delivers more than his share, and contributes in different capacities as needed.” Alistair delivered a memorable MBA TED talk, in which he demonstrated that diversity and inclusion make organizations and societies healthier. In my view, he has two superpowers that set him apart: the ability to embrace constructive conflict and find consensus, and the ability to take charge in a way that lifts others up. Alistair was voted by the faculty as the most outstanding student in the Class of 2019, a distinction that reflects both his stellar academic performance and his passion for servant leadership. I will always remember Alistair as a modern-day Eric Liddell, whose Olympic gold medal story is memorialized in the film Chariots of Fire. Alistair gives his best effort not just on game day, but far from the spotlight each and every day.”

Dr. Janet Marcantonio
Executive Professor, Mays Business School
Texas A&M University

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