Most young professionals smartly use a full-time MBA experience as an opportunity to do a career switch. At Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, nine out of ten MBA students say they want to change careers. And many of them are non-traditional MBA students who have had little exposure to the business world.
Meet two Kelley alums who used their MBAs to engineer among the most dramatic career switches imaginable. Before getting his MBA from Kelley in 2012, Gerardo Ubaghs was a classical violinist. Matthew Hartzell, who earned his Kelley MBA in 2017, was a laboratory director at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Today, they both work as investment bankers in New York City for BankofAmerica/Merrill Lynch. Ubaghs, a native of Spain, is a director in the life sciences practice of the firm’s Global Healthcare Investment Banking unit, while Hartzell, who grew up in Oregon, is an associate in that practice.
THE MBA CAREER SWITCH: HOW A KELLEY MBA MADE IT POSSIBLE
The pursuit of a dramatic shift in one’s professional life is a daring exercise, expecially when you move into a life so different from the one you had lived before. It requires learning a new language and new skills but also genuine encouragement and support. Ubaghs, who traded in his violin, and Hartzell, who gave up his white lab coat, attribute their ability to make the change to the skills and guidance they received at the Kelley School of Business.
In this video interview with Poets&Quants Founder John A. Byrne, the pair speak about their career switches and the instrumental role the Kelley School of Business played in their successful transitions. What follows is an edited transcript of the video interview:
John A. Byrne: Gerry, when you were strolling around on the campus in Bloomington, did you ever imagine you’d be in a cab on a hot day in New York City going to work at Merrill Lynch as an investment banker?
Gerardo Ubaghs: I was hoping I would be. That’s certainly the case.
Byrne: When you went to Kelley you knew you wanted to do finance, but did you know you wanted to do investment banking?
Ubaghs: Kelley is a phenomenal school for a career switcher. There’s no doubt the school played a big role in this. The training is phenomenal. They really take a tailored approach to who you are and what you want to do. The school helped me do a deep dive to learn in practical terms about what banking is and who are the alumni that you can contact to help you make a switch. It really helped me prepare for and put together a story that is marketable.
Byrne: What were some of the specific things that Kelley did to help you transition into this different world?
Ubaghs: It starts with day one in business school, with what they call Me Inc, making sure that you develop your own brand and you identify the items that are important to you to be able to maintain your personality and who you are. At the same time, they make sure that that’s also presented in a marketable way for whatever career path you want to take.
Byrne: So you joined Merrill Lynch right out of Kelley and then years later in 2017 ended up hiring a Kelley alum to work with you. What made Matt appeal to you?
Ubaghs: He’s just a great guy, a hardworking and really smart professional. And he definitely has an unusual background, which caught my attention as well.
Byrne: The two of you are certainly prototypical nontraditional MBA students. Gerry, you played violin on a classical level. Your favorite composition is Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C major. Matt, you were a laboratory director at the Baylor College of Medicine. Neither of you knew what an income statement was, or a balance sheet, or could read one. How did you decide you really wanted an MBA?
Matt Hartzell: I really decided I wanted to get an MBA to broaden my skill set. The view I had in academia was that if you stay in academia, you need to get a Ph.D. to be dangerous or credible. Nothing’s guaranteed there and it’s a very tough and challenging environment.
Byrne: You were in Houston at the time and are from Oregon. How did you choose Kelley in Bloomington, Indiana?
Hartzell: I went and visited the campus and I got really good vibes from the people there. I liked the small class atmosphere. You walk into some places and you know ‘I fit here and this is a place for me.’ Ultimately, I wanted to do something in biopharma. There are some large biopharma companies right in Kelley’s backyard and the school has a history of placing candidates there. I mean the CEO of Eli Lilly is now a Kelley MBA alum. So, you can see that path for yourself and it inspires you a bit. All those things came together and led me to pursue Kelley.
Byrne: Gerry, give us a little taste of what your life was like before you went to business school.
Ubaghs: I was formerly a student at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, but then at the same time combined that with a performing career. I traveled the world performing, whether it was as a soloist or chamber music musician or competing in international competitions.
Byrne: And Matt, how about you? What was your life like in the laboratory?
Hartzell: I’ve spent time mostly in ophthalmology at the KCI Institute at Oregon Health and Science University, and then at Baylor College of Medicine. On a day-to-day basis, I spent a lot of time conducting laboratory experiments.
Byrne: I imagine that when you both joined the MBA program at Kelley it was quite an abrupt shift from what you had been doing before. What did it feel like for both of you?
Ubaghs: For me, it was actually exciting. I had never lived in the U.S. for prolonged periods of time, and Indiana University is a beautiful campus. It has a lot to offer beyond just whatever you want to study. Taking you from the classroom into eventually the job that you want, they really cover all those steps in between and they do a phenomenal job at it. If you’re willing to put in the time and the hard work, it really is a phenomenal school that gives you everything at your disposal to succeed.
Hartzell: I was excited to meet new people, to learn something new and exercise a different part of my brain.
Byrne: And then you leave this bucolic campus and head to New York for of all things careers in investment banking. What was it like and how did Kelley prepare you for it?
Hartzell: I think geography these days hardly ever matters anymore. It’s more about the alumni network that Kelley has to offer. If you find some good friends at work and people to help you along the way, it’s a very manageable transition.
Byrne: People talk a lot about alumni networks, particularly in business school. How do they really work?
Ubaghs: Kelley actually does teach you quite effectively to take your message and deliver it in as short and succinct way as possible. Then once you’re there, you are trying to show them that it’s worth their time to try to listen to you.
Byrne: And Kelley does teach you how to do this right?
Hartzell: Yeah. You start to develop a good elevator pitch about yourself and you work on delivering that to people. You learn to mix that in with a sense of humor and some indications that you’re a normal person, and I think that’s the key to success.
Ubaghs: I give a lot of credit to the Kelley alum who opened the door for me, granted me the interviews, and certainly went to bat afterward to make sure that I had the best shot possible.
Byrne: If you were to look back now on your Kelley experience and say you wish you had more of X, what would X be?
Ubaghs: I would have loved to stay a bit longer, just because it’s a great program, it’s a great environment.
Byrne: Well, you both made the quintessential career switches from lab rat and classical violinist to the intense and challenging world of investment banking in New York City. All thanks to the door they walked through at the Kelley School of Business.