The MBA Summit: 3 Alums Reflect On How The Degree Shaped Their Careers

How does the MBA ultimately contribute to the career you have? What did you learn from the experience? Did it set you up for the job you ultimately entered? Bottom line: Was the MBA worth it?

Those are some of the core questions we explore with three MBAs who have been in the world of work for a cumulative total of nearly 30 years. In a wide-ranging discussion that was part of second annual MBA Summit at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, the trio reflects on what it was like to graduate with an MBA in the midst of the Great Recession and land their first post-MBA jobs. But the conversation, moderated by Poets&Quants founder John A. Byrne, explores how the MBA experience helped to shape their professional lives, the important lessons they took away from the education, and what skills they continue to build upon at work.

Dayna Moser is a vice president at Goldman Sachs, where she has worked for 11 years, ever since graduating with an MBA from Michigan Ross in 2008. She had worked for Deloitte Consulting before going to Ross for her MBA.

Patrick Moran has spent his career in tech after earning his Ross MBA in 2009. He has worked at a number of very well known firms, starting with eBay, Netflix and now Spotify where Patrick is global head of growth marketing.

Elizabeth Cathles is a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting. She earned her MBA at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business along with a master’s in public health in 2009. She’s worked with clients across both the U.S. and Europe, focusing primarily on the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

This is the second of a three-panel discussion making up The MBA Summit that was live streamed from the Ross School of Business campus. The MBA admission chiefs of Michigan Ross, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business explored the worth of an MBA and what it takes to get into a top business school (see The MBA Summit: Straight Talk From The Gatekeepers At Ross, Tuck & Haas).

John A. Byrne: Let’s get to the first question: Is the MBA worth it? 

Elizabeth Cathles: For me, I would say it’s absolutely been worth it. And I do think that it depends a lot on who you are and what your background is. So for me, I went to a liberal arts undergraduate degree. I had a biology major and double minors in history and French.

Byrne: So you’re a poet and a quant.

Cathles: A little bit of both. For me, the MBA program at Berkeley really provided an opportunity to learn the language of business. So I had been working in business for McKesson Corp. prior to business school, but it provided me with a much more structured way of learning the different facets of business, and it’s been tremendously useful today.

Byrne: Did you go into the MBA knowing that you wanted to change your career?

Cathles: I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go after business school but I did know that I wanted to learn more about the fundamentals of business. I wanted to understand the different interactions between major companies and how the markets function. It was tremendously useful from that perspective.

Patrick Moran: It’s definitely paid off for me. I was a career switcher. I finished my undergraduate degree in the Philippines. It’s certainly helped the trajectory of my career, that’s for sure. My first job out of eBay I got primarily because of the Michigan network in a pretty bad year. It was tough. I came out in 2009. But it was definitely worth it for me. I think it was just the learning process, or at least understanding the learning process. That was fundamentally what I’ve taken with me throughout all these years.

Byrne: Dayna you graduated from Michigan a year earlier and then had the wisdom to choose Goldman Sachs instead of Lehman Brothers which went bankrupt in the Great Recession. Obviously, for you, the MBA was worth it.

Dayna Moser: It was. I’ve had a terrific career. I actually started my career at Deloitte Consulting in the strategy group there, and Deloitte sponsored me to go back to business school. So I actually was an undergraduate here at the University of Michigan and then applied at schools all over the country and came back to school with the idea that I would return to consulting.

As soon as I arrived on campus. I found out that I was really interested in finance. And so I credit the school with a diverse curriculum in the first year and encourage you to open your mind to other opportunities. You’re really diving into topics like marketing and pricing strategy, and negotiations, courses that I still find helpful in my new career.  

Byrne: Let’s go to Patrick and ask what did you really take away from the MBA experience that has enabled you to be successful in your career?

Moser: I was in IT consulting prior to business school. I was there for about four or five years. The types of problems that we were solving were basically very much focused on that industry and that space. And so all the people that I had worked with were also very much more focused on solving those specific problems. In business school, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s to be able to solve a vast array of problems with other smart people. The ability to adapt to change, and the ability to be okay with ambiguity are pretty important things that I’ve taken away. Yes, I completely agree with the negotiation classes that I took and having a negotiation with a two-and-one-half-year-old. For the most part, what I truly learned can be boiled down to two things. One is, being okay with ambiguity and then two is actually solving problems with other really smart people, which I think is a dynamic that is pretty important, especially as you progress in your career.

Byrne: We have on the stage representatives of three of the major industry recruiters of MBAs: finance, consulting and tech. Today, more MBAs go into consulting than any other industry. What is it about the MBA that makes it such a good grounding for a career in consulting?

Cathles: As a consultant, you’re never sure exactly which problem you’re going to be solving next. So even just within strategy, I’ve had a wide array of topic areas that I’m solving. I’ve worked across multiple different industries. I work short-term, long-term, more focused on technology, less focused on technology, more focused on strategy, less focused on strategy. That’s where the MBA really shines. It gives you the ability to solve problems across the board with other smart people. That’s absolutely something that I call on every day as a consultant.

But it also gives you the understanding that you don’t have to know the answer to everything. But you need to know where to find it. It gave me a lot of tools that I’ve drawn on since then.

Byrne: Patrick, the network was essential to you in finding that first job in the midst of the Great Recession at eBay. Dayna, how did Michigan help you in that first job at Goldman Sachs?

Moser: I was amazed to find that as soon as your deposit is paid and you’ve showed up to campus, the number of companies that are just waiting in line to talk to you is unbelievable. And you are thinking to yourself, Well, I’m just the same person I was a month ago. What’s changed? But apparently, the whole world has changed. There were a lot of people I started to get to know on campus who had worked at all of these companies. They were able to direct me to what companies they thought I would be the best match for.

The finance club would organize a week-long trip to New York City or Chicago, where you could meet and go to each of the companies and their rooms, were filled with alumni from the different schools. This year, I’m now the hostess of the finance track to Chicago for 30 to 50 Ross students. So I think you just try to keep paying it forward as an alumnus.

THE COMPLETE 2019 MBA SUMMIT

Candid perspectives from MBA students, admission officials, and employers

STRAIGHT TALK ON HOW TO GET INTO A TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL

IS THE MBA STILL WORTH IT? THREE ALUMS REFLECT ON HOW IT SHAPED THEIR CAREERS

USING YOUR MBA FOR SOCIAL IMPACT

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.