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U.S. Veterans Share Their MBA Experiences Abroad

John Conard, left, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, is one of nine U.S. military members in the Class of 2020 at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.

Veterans of the military are highly sought-after MBA candidates at business schools in the United States, for many obvious reasons — discipline chief among them. But schools outside the U.S. are eager to welcome veterans, too. At IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, the Class of 2020 that graduates this spring has nine former members of the U.S. military, from the Army to the Coast Guard to the Special Forces and more. Below are five brief profiles of these exceptional MBA candidates, all members of the newly formed Veterans Business Club at IESE, including their recruiting insights and post-MBA plans — from positions with employers like McKinsey and ABInBev to plans to start their own business.

What is the recruiting process like from a veteran’s point of view? How did veterans networks help? Why did they choose to study abroad, rather than at a U.S. B-school? Read on to find out.

John Conard

Background: I grew up in a “military family” outside of Atlanta, Georgia — the idea of military service was always present during my upbringing. I decided to attend the University of Georgia on an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship and commissioned as a Field Artillery Officer in May 2010. I spent the next 7 ½ years in various roles, from a mortar platoon leader in Afghanistan to a staff officer in South Korea. In 2017, I decided it was time for the next step in my life, and I left the Army to spend one year backpacking through Central and South America. Finally, I applied to various MBA programs within the U.S. as well as to IESE, and, after careful reflection, decided that my best opportunity to grow as a leader was at IESE.

Post-MBA plans: I am currently raising funds to start my own niche private equity firm called a “search fund.” Using this fund, I will find a small business in the U.S. to buy and become CEO, with the goal of growing and developing the company further. This is a great opportunity for veterans with leadership experience to be immersed in an entrepreneurial opportunity right out of the MBA without many of the risks associated with a startup.

Challenges/insights from the recruiting process: While I am not taking the “typical” recruiting path, I have still encountered the same issues as most veterans in trying to explain their military accomplishments in civilian terms. How does being a Field Artillery Officer prepare you to be a good salesman or help you interpret a P&L? While I don’t think you can ever completely convey how your military experience has shaped you, I have found that leadership, communication, and team-building skills are inherent to any business. Focus on how you have developed these skills (preferably by using stories) and you will find success.

How did the veterans network help? The veteran network is not only a great sounding board for ideas and support, but also a great opportunity to make networking inroads. For example, when reaching out to institutional investment firms, I first look to see if there are any veterans working at the firm. By reaching out to them first, I am quickly able to establish a credible relationship that puts me ahead of someone who “cold calls” or writes a standard intro email.

Steven Jewell

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Background: Upon graduation from the University of Dubuque with an Aviation Management degree, I commissioned in the U.S. Army, where I served for 10 years in multiple positions as a Field Artillery Officer and Special Forces “Green Beret” officer. I was stationed in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Stuttgart, Germany before transitioning to the IESE MBA program in Barcelona. I served a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan, a six-month deployment to Latvia, and multiple month-long deployments to other Eastern European countries.

Post-MBA plans: Upon completing the MBA, I will join the management consulting firm Kearney Dubai in September 2020.  I will move to Dubai with my fiancée to start my business career as a management consultant, bolstering my exposure to the Middle East and developing key contacts in the region.

Challenges/insights from the recruiting process: The road to receiving an offer for me wasn’t always smooth sailing; in fact, it was quite humbling. I was turned down by multiple consulting firms in the final round during my first year in the MBA program while trying to secure my summer internship, which was extremely frustrating. However, I eventually secured an internship through my experience and background from a contact that was provided by an IESE professor whose son is an investor in the early-stage startup. The startup is a San Francisco-based defense tech company that was founded by a former Navy SEAL and which is on the verge of raising its Series A funds in March 2020. Knowing that the company could not provide me an official offer right after the summer because it still needed to raise Series A funds, I entered the recruiting process with Kearney Dubai after they reached out to me during the summer. After going through the four-round process and eventually receiving the offer from Kearney Dubai, I checked back in with the startup and they could not promise that they would successfully raise their Series A funds before my decision deadline, and therefore could not provide me with a compensation package and official position that was competitive. Despite my trust in the startup and my desire to work there after my summer, in the end I am lucky that I put forth the effort to recruit for other opportunities to hedge my risk.

How did the veterans network help? My veterans network helped me secure multiple interviews while recruiting for my summer internship and for full-time positions with consulting companies in the U.S., Europe, and Dubai, and also helped me secure my summer internship with the San Francisco tech startup. For the consulting firms, my direct way into the firm after speaking to the local firm’s HR representative was to always ask if they could connect me with a fellow veteran in their local office. Without fail, this process worked every time, allowing me to network and conduct valuable mock interviews with consultants, managers — even, once, a partner! When I then officially applied to the firm during the recruiting window, these firms already knew me, and I secured at minimum a first-round interview without fail. As for my summer internship, without the veterans network, this would not have been possible.

Last year, during my first year in the MBA, my veteran classmates and I founded the Veteran’s Business Club, which has brought some great attention. Without forming this club, I am not sure the IESE professor who introduced me to the startup would have ever known me from the start. Garnering his support to back the club ultimately led to him asking if I had a summer internship, and eventually to his introducing me to the company. From there, I was able to secure the position because of my unique profile matching the company’s CEO profile, as Green Berets and Navy SEALs have a lot in common.

See the next page for more profiles of U.S. military members of the Veterans Business Club at IESE in Spain.