2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Travis Black, Texas A&M

Travis Black

Texas A&M University, Mays Business School

“Lover of people, cultures, innovation, and overcoming problems to enhance people’s lives.”

Hometown: Abilene, TX

Fun fact about yourself: I met my (American) wife in Egypt, married her in Canada, and had our first child in New Zealand.

Undergraduate School and Degree:
Texas A&M University – Bachelor of Arts (Communications)
Regent College Vancouver – Master of Divinity

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Ranger Plant Construction – Business Development Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Amazon – Seattle

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon – Sr. Product Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Diversity and Inclusion Chair, Net Impact President, Class Graduation Speaker

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I initiated a “Festival of Food,” an evening where each person from our class brought a dish of food that was “home” for them. The evening had a special focus on our international students, who brought such richness to our class. Someone from each country represented gave a quick presentation about what they most loved and missed about their country. In business school, it is easy to view people functionally: what skills they bring to help complete assignments with excellence most quickly. This event allowed us to better see each other as people with unique backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, and passions. When you can understand a person’s home, it is much easier to understand their heart. When you understand their heart, deep trust is built. When trust is built, there is much greater room for disagreement and debate to lead to innovation instead of frustration. I feel like this event, to a significant degree, allowed this chain to occur in our class. Plus, the food was incredible!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was the senior leader at a church in Auckland, New Zealand. It was in a section of Auckland that the NZ government had located refugees from all over the world. There were people from everywhere! The church was figuring out how to meet the needs of such diversity and that was a primary responsibility for my time in the role.

Over my tenure, we were able to elevate minorities into leadership, increase the number of time minorities were in front of the microphone, and increase the number of stories told by all the cultures through testimony, song, art, and conversation. The church became an even more inviting place for anyone looking for a place to belong, whoever they were. It was a collective effort. I was inspired by watching people creatively reach out to others.

I was most proud when the person they hired after me was the first non-white senior leader, who has been wonderful in continuing to lead that church to be a place of refuge and help for whoever needs it to this day.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? There was a lot of fun events: tailgates before Aggie football (in a stadium seating 100,000), happy hours, family cookouts, barbeque cookoff, etc.)

But, the most memorable and meaningful occurred at the end of the program. As a class, everyone stands up in front of their classmates (a third of them) and provides self-reflective commentary on what they have learned about themselves and how they will be proactive to become the best they can in the future.

It demonstrated the camaraderie, trust, and respect built throughout the program to have business students comfortably share their weaknesses, faults, and regrets to one other. Then, for each person to talk about a way forward, with helpful insight from classmates who are committed to their future success.

Why did you choose this business school? Mays is an 18-month program that contains the same material as a two-year program. This means I could I got an extra semester to be making money instead of spending it! It also had the reputation of high caliber academics, a demanding curriculum, a personalized approach, but in an accelerated program that was affordable. I found that I could get the most bang for my buck, which is reflected in their ROI.

Plus, College Station (the city where it is located) is family-friendly. My kids went to great schools. It was easy to get connected with others. And the college town feel is a lot of fun!

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program?

  1. Apply! One of the biggest hurdles is simply taking the GMAT and applying. Do it!
  2. When answering the application (and interview) questions, make sure you are telling your story and not just giving facts. You want the admissions team to form an emotional connection with you, so ensure your application allows that to occur. Also, Texas A&M is a unique culture for a university. I would do some research to understand some of the traditions. It wouldn’t hurt to find a way to genuinely talk about one or two of them in your interview.
  3. Have a clear vision for your future. Even though it will likely change (or might be cloudy, like mine was when I began), it is important to at least have an articulate and detailed draft of your future. Because it is an accelerated program, the admissions team is looking for people who know where they want to go so the degree isn’t wasted. Make sure you communicate a clear purpose and objective for your MBA.
  4. Finally, more on a general level, brush up on your Excel skills. The more comfort you have in the functionality (and time-saving tricks) of excel, the much easier life will be!

What is the biggest myth about your school? There is a widely-held myth that Texas A&M is some holy ground filled with awe and wonder. It is totally true. (Cue the white lights and the angelic voices!)

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have a deep respect for John Henderson. He would always be sitting in the classroom an hour before the first class started reading the Wall Street Journal. He would set it down when someone arrived and join in whatever conversation occurred. However, he would never draw attention to himself. In class, he was quiet, yet engaged. His answers or questions were always precise and accurate. He took notes with a pen and paper, all that was needed for him to recall the day’s lecture.

As I got to know him more, I could tell he was brilliant. (He was one of the few who got a 4.0). There weren’t many subjects he didn’t have a conversant and insightful knowledge about. He had an incredible memory and a curiosity that was constantly absorbing information. He could construct Excel models quickly and would discern the most critical root causes of a case. He rarely struggled in class, and likely felt the pace could be quicker. (It felt unfair!)

What I appreciated about him, though, is that he could have been justifiably cocky and self-promotive. Instead, he allowed other people to talk before unobtrusively providing a better answer. He quietly provided help if he heard people struggling (and he did it a lot). He would disagree with opinions using facts, but in a manner that respected the other person’s point of view.

In short, he was good and admirable. He was an example of what Jim Collins calls a Level 5 leader: fierce resolve with humility.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? A family friend, Dave Alexander, has been a business mentor for me. He was critical in illuminating for me the unique opportunity of a full-time MBA to allow people to undertake a dramatic career pivot in a way that quickly accelerated a career. Plus, he helped communicate all the different skills learned that helps improve decision making in all of life. He was right on both counts.

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

  1. Play a significant role in positively shaping the future with Amazon.
  2. In the future, lead or be a significant player in a social enterprise.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to be someone who inspires people to be better, as an individual and a collective, through example, wisdom, care, humor, humility, and self-giving.

Hobbies? Keeping my kids alive, cooking, gardening, piano, guitar, board games, reading, good conversation with friends over a meal.

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

“Travis Black is the heart and soul of the Full-Time MBA Class of 2020. The definition of a transformational leader, he brings an invaluable ability to help people see each other’s perspectives and find common ground. As one of his teammates wrote when providing peer feedback, Travis is “gifted at smoothing over differences in team member attitudes, stress behavior, and level of commitment,” while demonstrating “dedication to making sure the goals the team has set for itself are met.” Toward the end of the first year of the program, Travis recognized that energy was at a low ebb. He spurred the organization of a potluck dinner honoring the international students in the class. While eating home-made food, class members shared personal stories and learned more about each other, which lifted spirits and renewed relationships at a critical time. For his capstone project, Travis analyzed the operations and profitability of a community-based mango farm in Peru. His recommendations added value by identifying when, where, and how the farm could best sell its Ataulfo mangoes in a complex competitive and regulatory environment. During the Class of 2020’s final l leadership presentations, Travis inspired all of us to be mindful of our blind spots in a way I will not soon forget. In his next career chapter at Amazon, Travis will drive results both through his knowledge and skills and, more importantly, by encouraging the heart of all those around him.”

Dr. Janet Marcantonio
Executive Professor, Mays Business School
Texas A&M University


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