People hate change. Instinctively, they treat it as a threat – something to delay or resist. For many, change is associated with a loss of control or status. It challenges beliefs and exposes weaknesses. It creates uncertainties and disrupts routines. Sometimes, it means starting from scratch…and shouldering added work and complications. As always, change sparks the two great questions: How will this be different from past failures? How do we know this can even be done?
Change drags people into the unknown. The learning curve is steep. That means bearing a certain discomfort for a time. Ultimately, change serves as a catalyst for examining what we do and how we devote our time. It presents new possibilities that reveal our strengths. It triggers a unifying spirit that forges a sense of purpose. In the end, this momentum produces greater rewards and security than simply clinging to the past.
EMBRACING AND TEACHING CHANGE
New York University’s Stern School of Business has long embraced bedrock fundamentals buoyed by a forward-thinking spirit. Opened in 1900, the Greenwich Village program started as a finance and economics school – one that welcomed women. Later, it became one of the first business schools to adopt international business programming. Now, the Stern School is entering a new incarnation, a transformation encapsulated in its new brand expression…
Change. Dare it. Dream it. Drive it.
This is more than a catchy tagline. These elements are the foundation of a new curriculum structure that Stern will be implementing for first-years beginning next fall. It starts at orientation with Change: Studio, hands-on programming that includes a Leadership Simulation, Social Identity Exercise, Inclusive Leadership Training, and a “Design Your Life” retreat. From there, students must choose a menu item from each of the school’s Dare It, Dream It, and Master It pillars.
In Dare It, for example, students are pushed to step out of their comfort zones and stretch themselves through coaching in the Leadership Fellows program or public speaking in Stern Speaks. With the final Drive It portion, students can launch startups or support early-stage ventures. In between, the Dream It component enables student teams to trek overseas as part of the “Doing Business In” module or complete a Stern Solutions consulting project with clients like Ralph Lauren, Citi, or JetBlue. This process, says Dean Raghu Sundaram, will better prepare Stern MBAs for ever-changing business models, technologies, and marketplaces.
SAY YES TO THE MESS
“Stern is on the front foot when it comes to the rapidly changing global and tech-fueled business landscape,” Sundaram explains in a press release. “Today’s business world demands talent with the skills and mindset to excel in environments that constantly change – people who are nimble, adaptable and agile when it comes to dealing with ambiguity. As a school, we are role modeling this for students through our approach to innovation and by delivering a transformative experience.”
This transformation requires students who aren’t afraid to say ‘yes.’ That’s exactly who composes Stern’s full-time MBA Class of 2021. Take Cortne Edmonds. Just two years into her first post-college job at TransPerfect, she was asked to take over a team and report directly to the head of global production. Despite her fears, she accepted the challenge – and never looked back. It also instilled the courage for Edmonds to say ‘yes’ again when she was offered an even bigger opportunity at TransPerfect: moving from New York City to Tokyo to turn around a newly-acquired business.
“Within three years, I grew the team to over 50 employees, grew revenue by 100%, and went from one of the least profitable hubs to one of the most profitable production centers globally,” she explains. “Moreover, I developed my ability to lead teams and manage change in a culture entirely different from the one where I grew up.”
SAY NO TO LETTING GO
While Edmonds exclaimed ‘yes,’ Seoyoung Park refused to say no. Just a month into launching a startup, three of her five co-founders bailed on her – and a fourth followed them out the door soon after. Park, who lacked both work experience and industry connections, found herself at a crossroads. Few would’ve blamed her if she’d packed up and move on as well. Instead of taking the easy path, Park went to work.
“I reached out to every source of funding I could garner – the government, VCs, and angels – and earned enough grant and angel investments to survive. To get celebrities involved in charity campaigns, I contacted 50-100 companies every day and made proposals. I also recruited a CEO who had more work experience than I did. I even designed all the contents that we needed myself, and the company finally survived.”
This test of faith, Park adds, steeled her as an entrepreneur. “Although there were large obstacles ahead and I lacked resources on every end, I learned that with a strong determination and unwavering perseverance, anything is possible.”
BECOMING “THE VOICE OF THE CONSUMER”
At Restaurant Brands International – aka Burger King – Emily Glaser’s moment of truth came after she transitioned from corporate communications to consumer insights. Sure enough, her boss left right before she started. That didn’t deter Glaser, who describes herself as possessing a “child-like excitement and diligent work ethic wrapped up in a pint-sized package.” Rather than worry, she became a “one-woman team”…despite possessing no marketing experience.
“I read every document I could, met with former insights managers at the company, and even went back to my college marketing notes to make sure I was prepared. About three months into the role, I was considered the voice of the consumer and the insights expert. Senior leaders trusted my recommendations and looked to me for guidance. It was the steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced but showed me what I can handle in the future.”
Such profiles in courage are one reason why Chain Vayakornvichit, an Oxford-trained marketer from Thailand, describes his classmates as “focused but open.” “It takes a certain kind of person to go, ‘Hey, I’m going to take two years out of a career where I can earn income and invest into myself’,” he writes. “At the same time, they have to wrestle with the uncertainty of where this path will take them. These two factors are why I think the classmates I have met come in with a particular story, a particular idea of where they want to be at the end of the line but they remain open to possibilities.”
It is an openness that’s grounded in curiosity, adds Riya Dhanania, a Calcutta native and McKinsey analyst. “Every “Sternie” I’ve met wants to learn something new and utilize the plethora of resources that are offered to us. Moreover, this curiosity is not just academic. Sternies are constantly getting out of their comfort zones and reinventing themselves.”
AN AWARD-WINNING FILMMAKER ALONGSIDE A TESTED MARINE
Mahum Jamal, for one, intends to become a film and television producer. Of course, she comes to Washington Square Park after writing and directing an award-winning film, A Good Dream, which has been distributed on platforms like Amazon Prime and iTunes. At Stern, she is pursuing a dual degree in partnership with NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “The unique MBA-MFA program speaks to the culture of partnership and collaboration at NYU and highlights the university’s foresight and awareness of the need for multi-faceted creative professionals in executive roles.”
Natalie Ashbridge is also reinventing herself. A Penn grad and fitness enthusiast, she entered operations management after her military service. Now, she may be the most MBA-ready student in the class. A ‘Yes’ woman in the most positive sense, Ashbridge has certainly paid her dues, overcoming intimidating hurdles and accepted big responsibilities along the way.
“I joined the Marine Corps immediately after college and was an active duty logistics officer for four years,” she notes. “Training is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; Officer Candidate School is 70 days of physical and mental exhaustion (you’re hungry, sleep-deprived, and must operate in stressful situations). It was hands-down the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the experience transformed me, both personally and professionally.”
Think that’s impressive? Just wait until you meet Tom Catalano, a U.S. Submarine Officer who dreams of moving into finance…and living near a marina and donning Tommy Bahama button-downs. His claim to fame? “I can navigate a 9,000-ton submarine using only the stars and a periscope.”
* Go to Page 3 for students profiles from the Stern MBA Class of 2021.
* Go to Page 2 for our interview with J. P. Eggers, Vice Dean for MBA Programs.