2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Adam Schmidt, University of Washington (Foster)

Adam Schmidt

Foster School of Business, University of Washington

“Former teacher and social entrepreneur focused on the intersection of talent, technology, and strategy.”

Hometown: Rhinelander, WI

Fun fact about yourself: I am an aspiring endurance athlete—I’ve completed seven marathons in the last seven years; three running and four on cross country skis!

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA, Geography, University of Wisconsin

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Director of Talent Development and Strategy, Seton Catholic Schools Inc., a start-up private school management organization in Milwaukee, WI.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? HR Management Associate Program Intern at HP, Inc.

Where will you be working after graduation? Senior Consultant at Accenture Strategy

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • MBAA Vice President for Career Development (2019-20)
  • Co-founder and Co-president, Foster Business & Policy Group
  • Co-chair, Foster MBA Student Wellness Taskforce
  • Board Member, Foster Consulting Society
  • Second Year Career Management Peer Adviser
  • 3rd Place Team, 2018 Deloitte/HP National MBA Human Capital Case Competition
  • C4C (Challenge 4 Charity) volunteering 60+ hours during MBA
  • MBAA First Year Representative for Career Development (2018-19)
  • First-Year Representative, Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club (2018-19)
  • Yusuf Mehdi Fellowship Recipient and Hatting Midwest Scholarship Recipient

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of founding and leading the Foster Business and Policy Group, alongside my classmate Maggie Polachek. My background includes policy research roles in Washington, D.C., and education advocacy work in my home state of Wisconsin. I was eager to leverage these experiences to more deeply understand and apply what I was learning in the MBA to strategic problem-solving.

The club became an offshoot of this personal passion. Since the fall of 2018, it has become one of the largest and most active clubs at Foster—our 60+ members represent about 25% of the full-time MBA student body. Our events provide students with opportunities to examine current events, explore careers related to government affairs, and contextualize the MBA classroom within local, national, and global politics. We have hosted expert discussions on Congress’ role in the economy and Big Tech’s anti-trust faceoff with US and EU regulators. Our greatest achievement was leading 12 students to Washington, D.C. in May 2019 to get a first-hand perspective on federal policymaking. We met with members of the Washington Congressional delegation, including Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as government affairs executives at Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Multiple participants hailed the trek as one of the best experiences of their MBA. I am thankful for the opportunity to enhance the learning environment at Foster and to leave this legacy for future students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Prior to business school, I was the fourth employee and talent officer for a venture philanthropy-backed private school management organization in Milwaukee. We were charged with integrating up to 30 urban and diverse suburban schools into a single system to achieve financial sustainability and robust student achievement outcomes. I led the team responsible for transforming a century-old talent model.

My first priority was ensuring every classroom had a great teacher. Relying on my experiences at Teach For America, I built and managed hiring forecasts and partnered with a marketing firm to develop a new employer brand and recruitment marketing campaign. This initiative attracted 2,000+ unique applicants— a 10x increase — and we made 150+ hires in less than two years. Simultaneously, I collected data and conducted interviews and workshops to identify employee pain points across schools. In response, we designed and implemented training, communications, change management, and compensation strategies that successfully integrated 15 schools and 500 employees, retained 90% of top performers, and increased teacher pay by 12% while also reducing overall headcount and costs so limited resources could be deployed directly into classrooms.

These changes delivered an immediate impact on our mission: above-average reading and math growth for 3,200 urban students. This work was hard — it required physical, intellectual, and emotional stamina to build, test, and scale innovative strategies in the education sector. And our decisions were not popular with all employees and stakeholders. I learned critical lessons about empathy, listening, and leadership that has allowed me to continue to grow as a leader.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Challenge For Charity (C4C), a competition among West Coast MBA programs, is my favorite tradition at Foster because it brings our community together to make an impact beyond the boundaries of campus. I have enjoyed volunteering at the University District Food Bank and, in doing so, I’ve learned more about my new Seattle community. I have also enjoyed supporting local charities by working at our annual fundraising auctions and coming together as one Foster team to win the Golden Briefcase at the annual C4C sports weekend at Stanford. Volunteering and playing sports brings out the best in so many of my classmates and makes the Foster MBA experience rewarding and fun.

Why did you choose this business school? Seattle is on the vanguard of tech innovation and business model disruption and the Foster School of Business is at the heart of this change. Foster faculty, students, and alumni are closely connected to tech anchors like Microsoft and Amazon, disruptors like Zillow, Redfin, and Smartsheet, not to mention the region’s dynamic start-up and venture capital ecosystem. Choosing Foster is choosing to be part of this region-wide classroom—I have been fortunate to complete consulting projects for three tech and cloud companies as part of my MBA.

I also chose Foster for its tight-knit and engaged community. I have learned just as much from my classmates as I have from my teachers and have built life-long friendships through class projects, clubs, volunteering, and adventures in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be yourself. Foster is a small and authentic community, so it is important to reflect on what you can uniquely bring to the program. Since there is no one “type” of student here, you should be comfortable being yourself. Do your best to articulate this in your application and interview and when visiting with current students.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I had competed in more case competitions. I participated in the Deloitte/HP National MBA Human Capital Case Competition at Vanderbilt during my first quarter and it was one of the best weeks of my MBA. I learned a lot from my teammates as we came together to solve the talent and financial problems in the case and form the creative solution that carried us to a third-place finish. Like a lot of MBAs, I’m competitive. I got such a rush when we were announced as finalists. I encourage all MBAs to participate in case competitions and, if I had the chance to go back, I’d try to participate in more of them over the course of the two years.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmate Vehro Titcomb. Vehro is a husband, father, and small business owner who manages to balance it all while engaging in the MBA program. Despite his many responsibilities, Vehro is a committed student and teammate who can always be counted on to make a strong contribution. Moreover, Vehro provides thoughtful feedback and seeks it out from others. I most appreciate Vehro’s clear understanding of his priorities. For example, he set clear boundaries between school and family time and has followed through on this commitment for our entire program. I’m thankful to have worked with Vehro and look forward to following his successes at Goldman Sachs.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business? My manager and the founding president at Seton, Don Drees, directly influenced my decision to pursue an MBA. Don had a nearly 30-year career at Accenture. In his post-consulting life, he turned to solving social problems. I observed him apply his business experience and consulting toolkit to the challenges our schools and students faced and realized how valuable this perspective could be to my career. It’s poetic that I’m now heading to his former firm. I am grateful for Don’s example and support.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Work abroad on a long-term project or multi-year assignment
  • Present a keynote at firm or industry gathering

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like to be remembered as a classmate who contributed to the learning environment and made the Foster community even more welcoming and engaged.

Hobbies? Cycling, hiking, downhill and cross-country skiing, backpacking, reading, travel, spending time with family.

What made Adam such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Adam is one of the most well-respected students among his classmates for his forward-thinking, volunteerism, and instilling a vision for career development that has been met with success.

His dependable and consistent contribution each week with me has made a huge difference this year in keeping everyone on track and prepared for the rigor of corporate recruiting. We have worked together on designing workshops, speaking engagements, and student involvement in design thinking using Designing Your Life.

Adam is one of the individuals that you want on your team because you know he will be there through the ups and downs and he will stay with a challenge to overcome it.”

Naomi Sanchez
Assistant Dean
MBA Career Management


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