Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2020

Becca O’Leary

Stanford Graduate School of Business

“California native. Into thinking about economic structures, cultural trends, and lots in between. Actually prefers cold winters.”

Hometown: Irvine, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: I haven’t taken a math class since high school! (This is not a recommendation…)

Undergraduate School and Major: Smith College, English Literature

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Urban Outfitters, Associate Buyer

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Most recently, I was managing cold weather accessories (hats, scarves, gloves, socks, and tights—it was a mouthful during interviews). Business was tough when I took over. During my time managing the categories, business improved, in some categories by triple-digit YOY comps.  It was really fulfilling to see my hard work pay off so tangibly, in a way that the team and I felt would be durable and long lasting.

Describe your biggest accomplishment at Stanford GSB so far: Passing accounting! In all seriousness, it has been focusing in on my own specific goals and tuning out any imagined expectations of my classmates to pursue the summer internship that I really wanted. And I got it!

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Insatiable curiosity.  GSBers are so impressively intellectually curious, but what’s more, they are extremely action-oriented.  So after the “who, what, why, when, where, how?”… there’s the “what next?”.

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? Innovative spirit. One reason I applied to the GSB was because of the admissions presentation. (Seriously. I was an English Major, so any and all communications or copy are scrutinized, for better or for worse.) The way the school presented the idea of an MBA was so fresh and unexpected, so different from any other schools I was looking at. In the presentation, it really seemed like the program put a lot of thought into what an MBA really is, without the heuristics built around the degree—I appreciated the thoughtfulness and creativity. This spirit comes through in the program. Not only are a huge portion of students working on new ideas–also known as startups (I am one of these people), but so many course offerings are either focused on entrepreneurship or explore creative modes of thinking (such as offerings at the D School).  I am specifically interested in Consumer + Retail, and, though Stanford is not the school with the most resources or the biggest Retail club, it does offer classes and connections to what I would consider the forefront of the vastly changing retail landscape.

What club or activity have you enjoyed the most at Stanford GSB so far? I have really taken advantage of the amazing treks that so many of the clubs on campus offer.  Treks mostly take place on Wednesdays, when we don’t have class, and typically are located at various offices in San Francisco.  While so many students from other schools frequently travel to San Francisco – which is such a hotbed of everything from tiny new up and coming companies to unicorns to large incumbents – we are lucky to be right here in The Bay. My favorite treks so far have been the Venture Capital Trek + the Retail Trek—some cool highlights have been visiting Forerunner Ventures (a consumer-focused VC), Redpoint Ventures, Instacart, and Hims. I have used these treks to learn about completely new industries to me (VC), as well as to hone in on the one that I have expertise in (Retail). On these treks, I learn about industries at-large, companies and firms themselves, as well as the presenters, who always have great nuggets of career advice. I always come back from the day feeling so inspired.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Coming from a pure poet background (see my fun fact…), I came to the point in my career where I wanted a formal business education, which I felt could help me answer some of my burning questions about retail and propel me forward into a career of innovation within the apparel industry. I also wanted an informal business education—to meet and learn from classmates with various interests and backgrounds and futures. Lastly, I was curious about testing a more project-based function (see: Management Consulting) where I could experience a client-facing, project-based structure, and survey a ton of different businesses, problems, and solutions. B-School felt like a perfect place to do this.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Wharton, Tuck, Kellogg, Yale SOM

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Size, location, and general feel were primary for me. I wanted a community, so I looked at small schools in smaller places, where I felt the student body would stick around on the weekend. I also think a lot about the role of business in society, and prioritized a school that engaged in interrogating this as a culture. I read all of the Poets&Quants guides, talked to current students, and visited campus. I found the latter to be the most informative regarding culture. I didn’t care as much about academic requirements (the schools I applied to had a variation of the same, I thought) or structure (like sections or learning groups). In terms of career goals, I am a big believer that things work out no matter what. I have some very classic MBA career goals (a summer internship in Management Consulting) as well as some nontraditional ones (a career in retail). For me, any of the schools would have excelled at the Consulting portion and have required me to put in extra effort for the retail portion. In the end, it really came down to culture for me.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I think failure is essential to growth. When I was 23, I felt I had really failed for the first time. I didn’t like my job—I wasn’t great at it, wasn’t challenged by it—and I didn’t know what to do. I learned that life wouldn’t be perfectly cumulative. I learned that it was okay to be less than perfect. I learned what worked for me at work, and what didn’t. I learned that admitting that I was wrong (fail fast, as they say!) really paid off in the end.  This openness has served me well in business school—this is a place where everyone fails (at least a little!). The more you are willing to try and fail, the more you have the opportunity to learn and grow.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I am still figuring this one out!  I am all about balance—most important is I have a kitchen that I love in a city that I love and maybe even a cat. Career-wise, I see myself either as a consumer specialist in Consulting or as a COO at an apparel startup that is innovating on the current supply chain, making it more sustainable, less expensive, and less risky.

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