“Experience is the best teacher.”
That could be the motto for the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. Deliberately small, the Katz MBA is known for its outputs: high job placement and ROI. The reason? MBA students are constantly teaming up and assuming different roles. Together, they dissect ideas, develop strategies, and execute deliverables. While experiential learning is deployed at every business school, it is foundational at Katz. That’s why, says Dean Arjang Assad, employers notice a “difference” in Katz graduates: well-versed in the fundamentals with an aptitude for in-demand soft skills.
“It ranges from being more confident in presentations to being more confident in working in unstructured environments where they have to define the problem before they can even work through and solve it,” explains Assad in a Q&A with Poets&Quants. “Many students are thrown by those kinds of environments; they’re not familiar with being challenged to take a question where they don’t exactly know what the question might mean or what is the best way to translate that question into a knowledge base that they can draw upon. With experiential learning, you’re exposed to a variety of challenges that are given to you… Over time, you develop this additional capability of being able to roll with the punches.”
UNDERSTANDING IMPACT ACROSS THE BOARD
Such experiences include the required Consulting Field Project, where five-member student teams partner with clients like UPS and Toshiba. Here, students apply the frameworks and tools they mastered to tackle global challenges like market entries or operational bottlenecks. The project also culminates with the McKinsey Cup Competition, where judges evaluate team solutions on their value and rigor.
“The Consulting Field Project was my favorite MBA course, writes Shan Iaun, a 2019 P&Q MBA To Watch. “My classmates and I took on the role of management consultants and dove deep into a company’s business issue. Through this class, I learned the importance of being comfortable with ambiguity. Every strategy should have a financial impact on the business. It is crucial to understand those impacts and their associated risks.”
Such team-driven projects are woven throughout the curriculum. For example, the program’s capstone involves a simulation, where student teams work to increase the value of a fictional retail company. Better yet, these teams report directly to a board composed of Pittsburgh-area executives. The simulation enables students to experience the interconnectedness of various functions – and how individual decisions and broader strategic movements reverberate across an operation. Such real-world learning opportunities enticed John Sopko to leave his promising logistics path and join the Katz Class of 2021.
“THE REAL DEAL”
“I have always thought the best way to learn is by doing,” he explains. “The classroom is a great place to discuss ideas and philosophies, but nothing will substitute the knowledge gained from real-world experiences.”
At the heart of the Katz MBA model is collaboration: defining rules, actively listening, incorporating viewpoints, and maintaining accountability. This is an environment that fosters goodwill, sustains flexibility, and spurs innovation. This mindset – using teamwork to push further and deeper – also brought Siddharth Srivastava from investment banking to business school.
“The focus on experiential learning encourages students and faculty to have an open interaction, which fosters an environment to work together as a team rather than an environment which is just about cutthroat competition,” he writes. “In my professional experience of over a decade, I have experienced both competitive and collaborative environments at workplaces. I personally feel that we learn a lot more and prosper together when we collaborate – whether as teams in a company or as classmates in a b- school.”
Katz’s esprit de corps culture extends far beyond students, adds Nijat Behbudov, a brand operations assistant from Procter & Gamble. “You can read all the books you want and listen to all the lectures you can get, but if the “real deal” isn’t there, what good does it do? I am able to take classes that are fundamentally based on real-world problems, work closely with the career management team, and book a mock interview to have an advisory session with experienced executives in our school, and leverage such a huge alumni network all over the nation.”
SAVING A COMPANY REPUTATION
Behbudov fits well within the Katz MBA framework: a student who prefers taking action over sitting back and letting the world come to him. As a P&G intern, for example, he shot out of the proverbial gate, launching a Head & Shoulder’s shampoo line that boosted market share in his native Azerbaijan. He isn’t the only class member who isn’t afraid to dig into the details and get their hands dirty. Take Shen Tian, who already holds a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Looking for impact? Shian’s efforts removed his employer from the U.S. EPA’s list of the worst polluters by revealing flaws in its modeling.
“The original model double-counted environmental emissions from many manufacturing sites across the U.S. and did not include the correct chemical destruction efficiency, which resulted in my employer being listed very high in a top air polluters list in the U.S.,” he explains. “I approached the USEPA technical contact at a conference and explained why I believe the model is inaccurate. After working with him, USEPA made the changes per my recommendation and my employer dropped out from this top air polluters list. It was a big win for my employer.”
Zach Weinberg has also notched some big wins early in this business career. At 26, he was entrusted with launch the first Chicago satellite office for BENS (Business Executives for National Security), a 30-year-old public-private partnership that tackles issues ranging from cybersecurity to talent shortages. Soon enough, Weinberg nearly quadrupled office revenues, while building relationships with entities ranging from the FBI to the U.S. Department of Defense. His strategy at BENS reflects a man poised to thrive in a “Katz Ready” environment.
THRIVING IN ‘SINK-OR-SWIM’ SITUATIONS
“It was the ultimate ‘sink-or-swim’ experience,” recalls Weinberg, who has played drums for several punk bands on world tours. “When addressing a C-suite audience, I learned that I had a precious two-minute window to demonstrate my expertise and to alleviate any skepticism towards my age. This showed me the value of not counting oneself out of an opportunity, even in the face of imposter syndrome. While you can’t control whether others say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ the important thing is to throw yourself out there.”
That’s what Siddharth Srivastava has done so far in his career at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. He describes these settings as “fast-paced” and “high pressure,” filled with steep learning curves and intense demands that required more than superhuman drive. In a world where he could influence but not dictate, Srivastava focused on making connections and building rapport, setting expectations and staying open to feedback to win his peers’ confidence.
“From this experience, I understood the importance of recognizing individual strengths of teammates to drive success. Some colleagues were highly self-motivated while some required a nudge every now and then and by analyzing their working style, I was able to take requisite, proactive action. Other significant learning was to realize the importance of astute delegation to extract maximum and quality output from team members. I learned to be reasonable and appreciative and banked on providing constructive feedback to encourage optimum performance.”
FROM CHICKEN TO DAREDEVIL
What is the Class of 2021 like outside work? Many are adventurers. Tyler Guerriero – who was once named Airman of the Year at this base – has visited 50 countries on six continents in the past two-and-a-half years alone. Just a month before business school started, Anil Mathew Roy indulged in a 2,200-mile motorcycle trip across India, where temperatures ran from -10°C to 48°C. Then again, Raunaq Lala simply describes himself as an “adventure sports enthusiast”…with a caveat.
“I have participated in various adventure sports such as bungee jumping, sky diving, white river rafting, scuba diving, trekking, hiking, flyboarding and ziplining. This is funny (and shocking) because, as a kid, I would say ‘I’m a coward’ and ‘I’m a chicken and proud of it’ when told to participate in simple kid activities such as crossing a rope bridge or to come down a hill without any assistance!”
Overall, this year’s class features 57 full-time MBA students who hail from 16 countries. 44% of the Class of 2021 comes to Katz from outside the United States, with over a third being women. The class boasts a 625 average GMAT, with the median rising to 640.
Go to next page to read a dozen in-depth profiles of Katz MBA candidates and an exclusive Q&A with MBA Director Laura Oknefski.