Meet IESE Business School’s MBA Class Of 2021

Samuel Zickgraf  

IESE Business School Class of 2021 at the University of Navarra

“Passionate Marine, mentor, and seeker of advice who loves to laugh at himself.

Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI, USA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I always carry a Tide pen, because I can’t eat/drink/exist without spilling on myself.

Undergraduate School and Major: Michigan State University-International Relations

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Captain, United States Marine Corps

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My most significant professional achievement was during my time as a Foreign Security Advisor in Iraq. I had the opportunity to work closely with Senior Iraqi Army Officials as well as countless coalition partners to clear areas of Western Iraq previously occupied by ISIS. Besides the rewarding experience of tangibly helping a recovering nation and its people, the experience of working in a high stakes international environment taught me humility, leadership, and cross-cultural communication.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Collaborative. By the time you apply for IESE, it’s unmistakable that you will constantly be working in a small, but highly diverse group setting. If you are someone who prefers to go it alone and keep to yourself, IESE is likely not the right fit for you. One of the most substantial differentiators of IESE is the small group dynamic where the teams are purposely constructed to have a high level of geographic and professional diversity. Although this can lead to a lot of frustration and conflict, it creates an enormous opportunity for personal growth and peer learning. Additionally, moving to Barcelona from America to start an MBA is quite an intimidating change, but my future classmates have been more than helpful in sharing their experience.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? IESE’s case methodology is an excellent approach to prepare for a career in management. Placing yourself in the shoes of global business leaders creates a point-of-view dynamic that allows one to gain the experience of uncertain decision making in a controlled environment.  Considering my experience coming from a non-traditional background in the American military, I believe that the case method could best help me translate my leadership experience into a business context and grant me years of strategic insight through learning from the experiences of others.

Aside from classmates and cases, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? IESE’s emphasis on impact and integrity. My greatest concern in transitioning from my career in the Marine Corps and pursuing an MBA was leaving an organization that prioritizes selflessness and service for an unfulfilling job in a business world that often places the pursuit of profits above all else. Through my interactions with faculty, students, and alumni, it was clear that IESE teaches an ethical approach to business management and recognizes the often-harmful actions of the corporate world. As an institution, IESE sees the potential for business to be a driving force to combat global issues such as gender disparity, climate change, and economic inequality, and produces socially conscious business leaders.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? IESE Veterans Business Club: there is an inherent sense of fellowship and giving back among the veteran community that comes from the shared experience of service. Veterans have a unique experience at an MBA program; transitioning from a world of strict hierarchy, controlled chaos, and a 24/7 commitment to an intense graduate-level education environment can be very stressful and confusing. The ability to reach out to a dedicated network of alumni and students who have experienced this challenge is an invaluable resource.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? How will you have an impact after your MBA? This was a very striking question at first and required a fair amount of contemplation. Of course, the fantastic thing about our future is that we have no idea where we will be and thus it is difficult to determine what sort of problems you will be able to influence. However, this question is core to IESE’s DNA. It forced me to think about how I can use the knowledge gained through an MBA to not only launch my career but have a positive impact on the world, no matter how small or large the scale.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After deciding to leave the Marine Corps, it was clear that continuing my education was the best way to transition to an entirely new career and geography in the business world. Pursuing an MBA would allow me to translate my leadership experience as an officer in the military to business acumen and competencies. Through intense course work, I hope to gain analytical skills and a general management foundation to help me succeed in an international business environment.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I chose to apply only to IESE. Although there are many excellent programs around the world, IESE was a clear standout according to my criteria and unique needs. Leaving a fulfilling career in the Marine Corps was extremely difficult, so I decided that I would only transition in the short-term if I had the opportunity to attend IESE.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Deciding on the right business school was a much more involved process than I ever expected and required considerable self-reflection. For example, when I first started researching schools, I only looked at the top American programs. By the end of my research process, I decided that I would only apply to programs outside of the United States. Through this self-reflection, I determined that I wanted a career in global business outside of the United States. Furthermore, an international education would allow me to learn from perspectives far different from my own, leading me to challenge my personal views and beliefs and acquire new decision-making strategies along the way. Another critical factor was the sense of societal impact within the school. Coming from the military it was essential for me to join an organization that I could have pride in its goals. Of course, I also considered other criteria such as return on investment, global rankings, as well as recruiting and alumni networks.

Additionally, communicating with alumni and students at the various schools I researched was crucial for determining fit. Fortunately, I was able to contact veterans and American students from several programs, but the passion that IESE students and alumni expressed for their school was exceptional. I remember reading Ryan Fritch’s profile on Poets&Quants and contacting him. He helped me determine if IESE was a good fit for me and then continued to help me network with the school and apply.  I cannot overstate how much reaching out to students and alumni gives you a clearer picture of the school. Veteran or not, I sincerely hope that prospective MBA students reading this will reach out to me to determine if IESE is right for them so I can pass on the same selfless support and advice I received.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? Although it is difficult to pinpoint one moment, taking command of a 42 member Marine platoon transformed my outlook immensely. I was charged with both leading Marines professionally and ensuring success in their personal lives.  I was expected to set the example, and any transgression by my subordinates could be considered a direct reflection of my leadership. This tremendous responsibility required me to be the best version of myself, creating a new drive within me to approach every challenge with discipline and ownership. The opportunity to mentor and guides young Marines taught me the value of self-improvement and gave me personal fulfillment. The privilege to lead at a young age in the Marine Corps taught me that inspiring leaders care for their subordinates, make decisions with the input of their team, and take complete ownership of results without taking credit for success. I intend to embody these principles in my future career in business management.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In a senior management role, leading people in an industry that ignites passion in me.  I hope to achieve career satisfaction through pursuing work that is personally fulfilling where I can positively impact those around me.

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